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First Edition

Britannica Educational Publishing

Michael I. Levy: Executive Editor
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Steven Bosco: Director, Editorial Technologies
Lisa S. Braucher: Senior Producer and Data Editor
Yvette Charboneau: Senior Copy Editor
Kathy Nakamura: Manager, Media Acquisition
Erik Gregersen: Associate Editor, Astronomy and Space Exploration

Rosen Educational Services

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Matthew Cauli: Designer
Introduction by Greg Roza

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The Milky Way and beyond / edited by Erik Gregersen.—1st ed.

p. cm.—(An explorer’s guide to the universe)
“In association with Britannica Educational Publishing, Rosen Educational Services.”
Includes index.
ISBN 978-1-61530-053-2 (eBook)
1. Milky Way—Popular works. 2. Galaxies—Popular works. I. Gregersen, Erik.
QB857.7.M55 2010

On the cover: Thousands of sparkling young stars are nestled within the giant nebula
NGC 3603, one of the most massive young star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. NASA,
ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Introduction 12

Chapter 1: The Milky Way Galaxy 21

The Structure and Dynamics of the Milky Way
Galaxy 21
Structure of the Spiral System 22
The Nucleus 22
The Central Bulge 22
The Disk 23
The Spiral Arms 24
The Spherical Component 25
The Massive Halo 25
Magnetic Field 25
Rotation 26
Mass 26
Star Populations and Movement 28
Stars and Stellar Populations 28
Principal Population Types 28
The Stellar Luminosity Function 31
Density Distribution 35
Density Distribution of Various Types
of Stars 36
Variations in the Stellar Density 36
Variation of Star Density with
z Distances 37
Stellar Motions 38
Proper Motions 38
Radial Velocities 39
Space Motions 39
High-Velocity Stars 40
Solar Motion 40
Solar Motion Calculations from 33
Radial Velocities 41
Solar Motion Calculations from
Proper Motions 41
Solar Motion Calculations from
Space Motions 41
Solar Motion Solutions 42

Chapter 2: Stars 45
The Nature of Stars 45

Size and Activity 45

Variations in Stellar Size 46
Stellar Activity and Mass Loss 46
The 20 Brightest Stars 47
Distances to the Stars 49
Determining Stellar Distances 49
Nearest Stars 50
The 20 Nearest Stars 51
Stellar Positions 52
Basic Measurements 52
Stellar Motions 52
Light from the Stars 53
Stellar Magnitudes 53 66
Stellar Colours 54
Magnitude Systems 54
Bolometric Magnitudes 55
Stellar Spectra 55
Line Spectrum 56
Spectral Analysis 56
Classification of Spectral Types 57
Bulk Stellar Properties 58
Stellar Temperatures 59
Stellar Masses 59
Visual Binaries 60
Spectroscopic Binaries 61
Eclipsing Binaries 61
Binaries and Extrasolar Planetary
Systems 63
Stellar Radii 67
Average Stellar Values 67 69
Stellar Statistics 68
Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram 68
Estimates of Stellar Ages 71
Numbers of Stars Versus
Luminosity 72
Mass-Luminosity Correlations 72
Variable Stars 73
Classification 73

Pulsating Stars 74
Explosive Variables 76
Peculiar Variables 78
Stellar Atmospheres 80
Stellar Interiors 82
Distribution of Matter 83
Source of Stellar Energy 85

Chapter 3: Star formation and

Evolution 89
Birth of Stars and Evolution to the Main
Sequence 89
Subsequent Development on the Main 111
Sequence 92
Later Stages of Evolution 93
Evolution of Low-Mass Stars 93
Origin of the Chemical Elements 96
The Most Abundant Chemical Elements 96
Evolution of High-Mass Stars 99
End States of Stars 102
White Dwarfs 103
Neutron Stars 104
Black Holes 108

Chapter 4: Star Clusters 110

Open Clusters 110
Globular Clusters 114
OB and T Associations 117
Dynamics of Star Clusters 119
Clusters in External Galaxies 120
Notable Stars and Star Clusters 122
51 Pegasi 122
Alpha Centauri 122
Arcturus 123
Betelgeuse 123
Deneb 123
Fomalhaut 123
Pleiades 124
Polaris 124

Sirius 125
Vega 126

Chapter 5: Nebulae 127

Classes of Nebulae 129
Early Observations of Nebulae 131
The Work of the Herschels 131
Advances Brought by Photography
and Spectroscopy 132
20th-Century Discoveries 132
Chemical Composition and Physical
Processes 133
Interstellar Dust 134 145
Turbulence 136
Galactic Magnetic Field 137
Molecular Clouds 137
Composition 138
Formation of Stars 139
Hydrogen Clouds 140
Reflection Nebulae 141
H II Region 141
Ultracompact H II Regions 144
Supergiant Nebulae 145
Chemical Composition of H II Regions 146
Planetary Nebulae 148
Forms and Structure 148
The Distances of Planetary Nebulae 150
Chemical Composition 150
Positions in the Galaxy 151
Evolution of Planetary Nebulae 151 157
Central Stars 152
The Nature of the Progenitor Stars 153
Supernova Remnants 154
The Crab Nebula 157
The Cygnus Loop 158
Diffuse Ionized Gas 158
Notable Nebulae 159
Cassiopeia A 159

Coalsack 160
Great Rift 160
Gum Nebula 160
Horsehead Nebula 160
Lagoon Nebula 161
North American Nebula 161
Orion Nebula 161
R Monocerotis 162
Ring Nebula 162
Trifid Nebula 162

Chapter 6: Galaxies 163

The Evolution of Galaxies 165 164
Historical Survey of the Study of Galaxies 167
The Problem of the Magellanic Clouds 168
Novae in the Andromeda Nebula 169
The Scale of the Milky Way Galaxy 169
The van Maanen Rotation 171
The Shapley-Curtis Debate 172
Hubble’s Discovery of Extragalactic Objects 173
The Distance to the Andromeda Nebula 175
The Golden Age of Extragalactic
Astronomy 176
Types of Galaxies 177
Principal Schemes of Classification 177
Elliptical Galaxies 177
Irregular Galaxies 182
Other Classification Schemes and
Galaxy Types 182
The External Galaxies 183
The Extragalactic Distance Scale 183
Physical Properties of External Galaxies 186
Size and Mass 186
Luminosity 186
Age 187
Composition 187
Structure 188
The Spheroidal Component 188
The Disk Component 189

Spiral Arms 189

Gas Distribution 189
Galaxy Clusters 189
Types of Clusters 190
Distribution 190
Interactions Between Cluster Members 191
Galaxies as a Radio Source 191
Radio Galaxies 191
X-ray Galaxies 193
Clusters of Galaxies as Radio and
X-ray Sources 193
Quasars 193
Gamma-Ray Bursters 195
Notable Galaxies and Galaxy Clusters 195
Andromeda Galaxy 195
Coma Cluster 196
Cygnus A 197
Great Attractor 197
Magellanic Clouds 198
M81 Group 198
Maffei I and II 199
Virgo A 199
Virgo Cluster 200

Appendix: Other Stars and Star

Clusters 201

Glossary 212
Further Reading 213
Index 214

Introduction | 13

F or thousands of years, astronomers

have worked to unlock the mysteries
of the heavens. As they observed the stars
ergs) of luminosity per second, making it
average in size, mass, and brightness.
Scientists use these measurements as
and planets that parade majestically benchmarks when discussing other
across the sky, one great source of won- stars, which can be bigger or smaller,
der was a huge faint trail of light that was more or less bright, depending on their
called the Milky Way Galaxy because it type and age.
looked like milk, spilled across the dark- While 150 million kilometres may
ness of night. When scientists started sound like a very long distance, it is tiny
using telescopes in the 1600s, they began in cosmic terms. The next closest star to
to understand more about the Milky Way. Earth is Proxima Centauri, which is the
But it wasn’t until the 20th century that smallest of three stars making up the triple
new technology allowed scientists to take star Alpha Centauri. Proxima Centauri is
the full measure of this galaxy and others approximately 4.22 light years from
scattered across the universe. What they Earth—or about 3.99 × 1016 metres (2.48 ×
have uncovered is richly detailed in the 1013 miles). Even the fastest modern
pages of this book. spacecraft would take countless lifetimes
The primary elements of any galaxy to reach this distant star.
are stars. A star is a massive body of gas Scientists have used several differ-
that shines by radiation resulting from ent methods to determine the distances
internal energy sources. There are so from Earth to the stars. The earliest
many stars in the universe it would be method, which is still used to determine
impossible to count them all. Only a very the distances of closer stars, is a trigo-
small fraction are actually visible to the nometric parallax, which involves
unaided eye. In the Milky Way Galaxy observing a star from two points on
alone there are hundreds of billions of opposite sides of Earth’s orbit. This
stars. The easiest of these for scientists to technique depends on using the rela-
study is the Sun, the star closest to Earth. tively unchanged backdrop of distant
It is about 150 million kilometres (93 space for precise measurements. More-
million miles) away from us. It has a distant stars require other techniques,
radius of about 700,000 km (430,000 most of which rely on comparing
miles.). Its mass is about the same as that luminosities.
of 330,000 Earth masses. It creates Depending on its mass, a star may
approximately 4 x 1023 kilowatts (4 × 1033 “live” 10 million years or 10 billion years.

Milky white stars and interstellar dust cascade across the sky to form the Milky Way Galaxy, a
spiral galaxy that is home to the solar system. Lowe
14 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

During this time, it goes through many the outer layers of the star to expand. This
dramatic changes. Stars begin as clouds is called the red giant stage. It can take
of interstellar gases, mostly hydrogen. anywhere from about a million years to
Molecules in the clouds slowly begin to hundreds of billions of years for a star
collapse and clump together, eventually to reach this stage.
forming areas of greater density. The Eventually, due to the lack of hydro-
clumps begin to rotate slowly as they gen, the fusion reaction begins to die
grow more massive. In time, one or more down. Not all stars die in the same man-
of the clumps begins to collapse in on ner. They differ depending on how they
itself due to gravity. Often, several stars formed, how dense they are, how big
form from the same cloud, resulting in they are, and their age. In less-massive
star groups. stars, the outer layers may drift away
Mass, gravity, and other forces cause into space, leaving the slowly cooling
the cloud to form a disk shape around the core called a white dwarf. More-massive
young star core. The temperature within stars can explode as a supernova. The
the core continually rises, and when the most-massive stars go supernova, then
temperature is high enough, hydrogen collapse in on themselves due to immense
fusion begins, which allows stars to radiate gravitational force. The result is a black
tremendous amounts of heat and light. hole—a force so powerful nothing, not
Soon after, the star has become fully even light, can escape its grasp.
formed. With a star the size of the Sun, Stars are not the only bright points
this might take tens of millions of years. of light in the night sky. A few of those
More massive stars, which burn hotter and twinkling specks are nebulae. A nebula
more quickly, may take just a few hundred is an interstellar cloud of gas and dust.
thousand years to reach this point. The matter that makes up nebulae is
For most of its life, a star continues to called the interstellar medium, which can
create helium through hydrogen fusion. be found just about everywhere in the
This part of a star’s life is called the main universe, although it is more dense in
sequence. Fusion creates the light and nebulae. The composition of nebulae is
heat that stars radiate and turns hydro- approximately 90 percent hydrogen and
gen into helium in the process. The power nearly 10 percent helium, with a very
created by fusion is constantly pushing small amount of other elements mixed
outward and fighting against the massive in, namely oxygen, carbon, neon, and
gravitational pull of the core. In time, as nitrogen. Many of the characteristics of
the hydrogen fuel in the core decreases, nebulae are determined by the physical
the core is converted to helium. Hydrogen state of the hydrogen in them.
is then burned on the surface of the Based on their components and
helium core at a higher rate, which causes behaviour, there are two main
Introduction | 15

The interstellar medium (gas and dust) that make up nebulae can take many shapes,
including this aptly named Bow Tie Nebula. NASA, ESA, R. Sahai and J. Trauger (Jet
Propulsion Laboratory) and the WFPC2 Science Team

categories of nebulae, dark and bright. These are the clouds from which most
Dark nebulae, which are also called new stars form through gravitational
molecular clouds, are dense and cold. collapse.
While molecular clouds can contain Although a very small percentage of
approximately 60 different kinds of mol- the interstellar medium, like that found in
ecules, the majority of their composition dark nebulae, is in solid grains, that per-
is molecular hydrogen (H2). They are centage is very important to the creation
opaque because of the relatively high of stars and solar systems. Unlike the
concentration of solid grains in them. gases in dark nebulae, solid grains absorb
Densities generally are millions of hydro- starlight. In turn, they are able to heat
gen molecules per cubic centimetre. and cool the gases.
16 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Bright nebulae are usually not as Despite their many differences, neb-
dense as the dark variety. However, as the ulae have basic traits in common. For
name suggests, they are visible. There example, all nebulae exhibit chaotic
are several different kinds of bright nebu- motions scientists call turbulence. This is
lae. Reflection nebulae are molecular similar to the ripples and whirlpools we
clouds just like dark nebulae. However, see when we add a coloured liquid to a
they are visible because light from nearby clear liquid. The disorganized flow of
stars reflect off of their solid grains. gases creates energy and heat. Scientists
H II regions are cosmic clouds that know that turbulence has a great effect
glow because they have been ionized by on the behaviour of nebulae, but they do
the radiation produced by a neighbour- not fully understand why or how. They
ing hot star. Ionization occurs when the hope to learn more about turbulence and
hydrogen atoms in the cloud separate nebulae by continuing to study known
into positive hydrogen ions (H+) and free nebulae and by discovering new ones.
electrons, causing the cloud to glow. Galaxies are massive, self-contained
Another kind of nebula, called the dif- collections of stars. Scientists believe that
fuse nebula, is visible due to the most galaxies formed shortly after the
ionization of hydrogen, nitrogen, and birth of the universe, about 13 billion
sulfur. Diffuse nebulae require the most years ago. They can look very different,
energy of all the kinds of nebulae and based on how they formed and evolved.
are found in the vicinity of the hottest Some are very small, while others, like
and most-massive stars. the Milky Way, have huge spiral arms
When a star goes supernova, the result- reaching deep into space.
ing explosion can last for several weeks. Scientists have had difficulty studying
After the supernova dies down, a bright, the Milky Way because of a thick layer of
colourful nebula, sometimes called a super- interstellar medium that obscures their
nova remnant, is left behind. Stars that view of it, even with powerful telescopes.
don’t go supernova can create planetary Many think the galaxy’s diameter is about
nebulae. This occurs when the envelope 100,000 light-years, and that our sun
of gases around the dying star begins to resides in a spiral arm about 30,000 light-
expand and spread out. Planetary nebulae years from the galaxy’s center.
often have a round, compact shape. The Milky Way is one galaxy in a
Scientists believe the Milky Way Galaxy cluster of galaxies called the Local Group.
contains about 20,000 planetary nebulae. Galaxy clusters are groups of galaxies

The arms of spiral galaxies, such as the Milky Way and this dusty spiral (pictured), are
thought to be produced by density waves that compress and expand galactic material.
NASA Headquarters - GRIN
Introduction | 17
18 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

that can be hundreds of millions of light- smaller galaxies. In fact, the two galaxies
years across. The word “cluster,” however, are moving toward each other and will
might be a bit misleading. The Magellanic some day—billions of years from now—
Clouds are two satellite galaxies orbiting merge to form a single galaxy.
the Milky Way. They are probably Beyond the Andromeda Galaxy,
between 160,000 and 190,000 light-years countless other galaxies with countless
away. Scientists have learned much about stars and nebulae are scattered to the
nebulae and stars by observing these farthest corners of the cosmos. We may
neighbouring galaxies. never travel past the distant limits of our
The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest own solar system, and those galaxies may
spiral galaxy beyond the Milky Way gal- always be just colourful specks visible
axy cluster. The Andromeda Galaxy only through our most-powerful tele-
cluster is one of the most-distant objects scopes. However, scientists will continue
that can be seen from Earth with the to study them and search for new stars,
unaided eye. At one time, scientists nebulae, and galaxies in the hope of
thought the Andromeda Galaxy was a learning more about our place in the
nebula in the Milky Way. However, we vast cosmos. With billions upon billions
now know that it is about 2,480,000 light- of galaxies—each of which are home to
years from Earth and is twice the size of billions upon billions of stars—there will
the Milky Way galaxy. Scientists believe no doubt be plenty for scientists to study
this galaxy has a history of “consuming” for many years to come.
The Milky Way
O n a very dark clear night, if you look upward at the heav-
ens, you will see an irregular luminous band of stars and
gas clouds that stretches across the sky. This band is called
the Milky Way. The Milky Way is actually a large spiral
system, a galaxy, consisting of several billion stars, one of
which is the Sun. Although Earth lies well within the Milky
Way Galaxy (sometimes simply called the Galaxy), astrono-
mers do not have as complete an understanding of its nature
as they do of some external star systems. A thick layer of
interstellar dust obscures much of the Galaxy from scrutiny
by optical telescopes. Astronomers can determine its large-
scale structure only with the aid of radio and infrared
telescopes, which can detect the forms of radiation that
penetrate the obscuring matter.



The first reliable measurement of the size of the Galaxy was

made in 1917 by American astronomer Harlow Shapley. He
arrived at his size determination by establishing the spatial
distribution of globular clusters. Shapley found that, instead
of a relatively small system with the Sun near its centre, as
had previously been thought, the Galaxy is immense, with
the Sun nearer the edge than the centre. Assuming that the
globular clusters outlined the Galaxy, he determined that it
22 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

has a diameter of about 100,000 light- massive black hole surrounded by an

years and that the Sun lies about 30,000 accretion disk of high-temperature gas.
light-years from the centre. (A light-year is Neither the central object nor any of the
the distance traveled by light in one year material immediately around it can be
and is roughly 9,460,000,000,000 km, or observed at optical wavelengths because
5,880,000,000,000 miles.) His values have of the thick screen of intervening dust
held up remarkably well over the years. in the Milky Way. The object, however,
Depending in part on the particular com- is readily detectable at radio wave-
ponent being discussed, the stellar disk lengths and has been dubbed Sagittarius
of the Milky Way system is just about as A* by radio astronomers. Somewhat
large as Shapley’s model predicted, with similar to the centres of active galaxies,
neutral hydrogen somewhat more widely though on a lesser scale, the galactic
dispersed and dark (i.e., unobservable) nucleus is the site of a wide range of
matter perhaps filling an even larger vol- activity apparently powered by the
ume than expected. The most distant black hole.
stars and gas clouds of the system that Infrared radiation and X-rays are
have had their distance reliably deter- emitted from the area, and rapidly mov-
mined lie roughly 72,000 light-years from ing gas clouds can be observed there.
the galactic centre, while the distance Data strongly indicate that material is
of the Sun from the centre has been found being pulled into the black hole from out-
to be approximately 25,000 light-years. side the nuclear region, including some
gas from the z direction (i.e., perpendic-
Structure of the ular to the galactic plane). As the gas
Spiral System nears the black hole, its strong gravita-
tional force squeezes the gas into a
The Milky Way Galaxy’s structure is fairly rapidly rotating disk, which extends out-
typical of a large spiral system. This ward about 5–30 light-years from the
structure can be viewed as consisting of central object. Rotation measurements of
six separate parts: (1) a nucleus, (2) a the disk and the orbital motions of stars
central bulge, (3) thin and thick disks (seen at infrared wavelengths) indicate
(4) spiral arms, (5) a spherical component, that the black hole has a mass 4,310,000
and (6) a massive halo. Some of these times that of the Sun.
components blend into each other.
The Central Bulge
The Nucleus
Surrounding the nucleus is an extended
At the very centre of the Galaxy lies bulge of stars that is nearly spherical in
a remarkable object—in all likelihood a shape and that consists primarily of old
The Milky Way Galaxy | 23

Image of the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy, produced from the observations made by the
Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS). The bulge in the band is the centre of the Galaxy. NASA

stars, known as Population II stars, Galaxy resembles other spiral systems,

though they are comparatively rich in featuring as it does a bright, flat arrange-
heavy elements. Mixed with the stars are ment of stars and gas clouds that is
several globular clusters of similar stars. spread out over its entirety and marked
Both the stars and clusters have nearly by a spiral structure.
radial orbits around the nucleus. The The disk can be thought of as being
bulge stars can be seen optically where the underlying body of stars upon
they stick up above the obscuring dust of which the arms are superimposed. This
the galactic plane. body has a thickness that is roughly
one-fifth its diameter, but different
The Disk components have different characteris-
tic thicknesses. The thinnest component,
From a distance the most conspicuous often called the “thin disk,” includes the
part of the Galaxy would be the disk, dust and gas and the youngest stars,
which extends from the nucleus out to while a thicker component, the “thick
approximately 75,000 light-years. The disk,” includes somewhat older stars.
24 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The Spiral Arms the part of the Milky Way Galaxy wherein
the solar system is located.
Astronomers did not know that the Theoretical understanding of the
Galaxy had a spiral structure until 1953, Galaxy’s spiral arms has progressed
when the distances to stellar associations greatly since the 1950s, but there is still
were first obtained reliably. Because of no complete understanding of the rela-
the obscuring interstellar dust and the tive importance of the various effects
interior location of the solar system, the thought to determine their structure. The
spiral structure is very difficult to detect overall pattern is almost certainly the
optically. This structure is easier to dis- result of a general dynamical effect
cern from radio maps of either neutral known as a density-wave pattern. The
hydrogen or molecular clouds, since both American astronomers Chia-Chiao Lin
can be detected through the dust. and Frank H. Shu showed that a spiral
Distances to the observed neutral hydro- shape is a natural result of any large-scale
gen atoms must be estimated on the basis disturbance of the density distribution
of measured velocities used in conjunc- of stars in a galactic disk. When the inter-
tion with a rotation curve for the Galaxy, action of the stars with one another is
which can be built up from measurements calculated, it is found that the resulting
made at different galactic longitudes. density distribution takes on a spiral pat-
From studies of other galaxies, it can tern that does not rotate with the stars
be shown that spiral arms generally follow but rather moves around the nucleus
a logarithmic spiral form such that more slowly as a fixed pattern. Individual
stars in their orbits pass in and out of the
log r = a − bϕ, spiral arms, slowing down in the arms
temporarily and thereby causing the
where ϕ is a position angle measured density enhancement. For the Galaxy,
from the centre to the outermost part of comparison of neutral hydrogen data
the arm, r is the distance from the centre with the calculations of Lin and Shu have
of the galaxy, and a and b are constants. shown that the pattern speed is 4 km/sec
The range in pitch angles for galaxies is per 1,000 light-years.
from about 50° to approximately 85°. The Other effects that can influence a
pitch angle is constant for any given gal- galaxy’s spiral shape have been explored.
axy if it follows a true logarithmic spiral. It has been demonstrated, for example,
The pitch angle for the spiral arms of the that a general spiral pattern will result
Galaxy is difficult to determine from the simply from the fact that the galaxy has
limited optical data, but most measure- differential rotation; i.e., the rotation
ments indicate a value of about 75°. There speed is different at different distances
are five optically identified spiral arms in from the galactic centre. Any disturbance,
The Milky Way Galaxy | 25

such as a sequence of stellar formation considerably beyond a distance of 100,000

events that are sometimes found drawn light-years from the centre and that its
out in a near-linear pattern, will eventu- mass is several times greater than the
ally take on a spiral shape simply because mass of the rest of the Galaxy taken
of the differential rotation. For example, together. It is not known what its shape is,
the outer spiral structure in some galaxies what its constituents are, or how far into
may be the result of tidal encounters with intergalactic space it extends.
other galaxies or galactic cannibalism.
Distortions that also can be included are Magnetic Field
the results of massive explosions such as
supernova events. These, however, tend It was once thought that the spiral struc-
to have only fairly local effects. ture of galaxies might be controlled by a
strong magnetic field. However, when the
The Spherical Component general magnetic field was detected by
radio techniques, it was found to be too
The space above and below the disk of weak to have large-scale effects on galac-
the Galaxy is occupied by a thinly popu- tic structure. The strength of the galactic
lated extension of the central bulge. field is only about 0.000001 times the
Nearly spherical in shape, this region is strength of Earth’s field at its surface, a
populated by the outer globular clusters, value that is much too low to have dynam-
but it also contains many individual field ical effects on the interstellar gas that
stars of extreme Population II, such as RR could account for the order represented
Lyrae variables and dwarf stars deficient by the spiral-arm structure. This is, how-
in the heavy elements. Structurally, the ever, sufficient strength to cause a general
spherical component resembles an ellip- alignment of the dust grains in inter-
tical galaxy, following the same simple stellar space, a feature that is detected
mathematical law of how density varies by measurements of the polarization of
with distance from the centre. starlight.
In the prevailing model of interstellar
The Massive Halo dust grains, the particles are shown to be
rapidly spinning and to contain small
The least-understood component of the amounts of metal (probably iron), though
Galaxy is the giant massive halo that is the primary constituents are ice and car-
exterior to the entire visible part. The bon. The magnetic field of the Galaxy can
existence of the massive halo is demon- gradually act on the dust particles and
strated by its effect on the outer rotation cause their rotational axes to line up in
curve of the Galaxy. All that can be said such a way that their short axes are par-
with any certainty is that the halo extends allel to the direction of the field. The field
26 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

itself is aligned along the Milky Way band, demonstrated that differential rotation
so that the short axes of the particles also leads to a systematic variation of the
become aligned along the galactic plane. radial velocities of stars with galactic
Polarization measurements of stars at low longitude following the mathematical
galactic latitudes confirm this pattern. expression:

Rotation radial velocity = Ar sin 2l ,

The motions of stars in the local stellar where A is called Oort’s constant and is
neighbourhood can be understood in approximately 15 km/sec/kiloparsec (1
terms of a general population of stars kiloparsec is 3,260 light-years), r is the
that have circular orbits of rotation distance to the star, and l is the galactic
around the distant galactic nucleus, with longitude.
an admixture of stars that have more A similar expression can be derived
highly elliptical orbits and that appear to for measured proper motions of stars.
be high-velocity stars to a terrestrial The agreement of observed data with
observer as Earth moves with the Sun in Oort’s formulas was a landmark demon-
its circular orbit. The general rotation of stration of the correctness of Lindblad’s
the disk stars was first detected through ideas about stellar motions. It led to the
studies made in the 1920s, notably those of modern understanding of the Galaxy as
the Swedish astronomer Bertil Lindblad, consisting of a giant rotating disk with
who correctly interpreted the apparent other more spherical, and more slowly
asymmetries in stellar motions as the rotating, components superimposed.
result of this multiple nature of stellar
orbital characteristics. Mass
The disk component of the Galaxy
rotates around the nucleus in a manner The total mass of the Galaxy, which had
similar to the pattern for the planets of seemed reasonably well-established dur-
the solar system, which have nearly cir- ing the 1960s, has become a matter of
cular orbits around the Sun. Because the considerable uncertainty. Measuring the
rotation rate is different at different dis- mass out to the distance of the farthest
tances from the centre of the Galaxy, the large hydrogen clouds is a relatively
measured velocities of disk stars in dif- straightforward procedure. The measure-
ferent directions along the Milky Way ments required are the velocities and
exhibit different patterns. The Dutch positions of neutral hydrogen gas, com-
astronomer Jan H. Oort first interpreted bined with the approximation that the
this effect in terms of galactic rotation gas is rotating in nearly circular orbits
motions, employing the radial velocities around the centre of the Galaxy. A rota-
and proper motions of stars. He tion curve, which relates the circular
The Milky Way Galaxy | 27

velocity of the gas to its distance from the to have been in error. Instead, the curve
galactic centre, is constructed. The shape remained almost constant, indicating
of this curve and its values are determined that there continue to be substantial
by the amount of gravitational pull that amounts of matter exterior to the measured
the Galaxy exerts on the gas. Velocities hydrogen gas. This in turn indicates that
are low in the central parts of the system there must be some undetected material
because not much mass is interior to the out there that is completely unexpected.
orbit of the gas; most of the Galaxy is It must extend considerably beyond the
exterior to it and does not exert an inward previously accepted positions of the edge
gravitational pull. Velocities are high at of the Galaxy, and it must be dark at vir-
intermediate distances because most of tually all wavelengths, as it remains
the mass in that case is inside the orbit undetected even when searched for with
of the gas clouds and the gravitational radio, X-ray, ultraviolet, infrared, and opti-
pull inward is at a maximum. At the far- cal telescopes. Until the dark matter is
thest distances, the velocities decrease identified and its distribution determined,
because nearly all the mass is interior to it will be impossible to measure the total
the clouds. mass of the Galaxy, and so all that can be
This portion of the Galaxy is said to said is that the mass is several times
have Keplerian orbits, since the material larger than thought earlier.
should move in the same manner that the The nature of the dark matter in the
German astronomer Johannes Kepler Galaxy remains one of the major ques-
discovered the planets to move within the tions of galactic astronomy. Many other
solar system, where virtually all the mass galaxies also appear to have such unde-
is concentrated inside the orbits of the tected matter. The possible kinds of
orbiting bodies. The total mass of the Gal­ material that are consistent with the non-
axy is then found by constructing detections are few in number. Planets and
mathematical models of the system with rocks would be impossible to detect, but
different amounts of material distributed it is extremely difficult to understand how
in various ways and by comparing the they could materialize in sufficient num-
resulting velocity curves with the observed bers, especially in the outer parts of
one. As applied in the 1960s, this proce- galaxies where there are no stars or even
dure indicated that the total mass of the interstellar gas and dust from which they
Galaxy was approximately 200 billion could be formed. Low-luminosity stars,
times the mass of the Sun. called brown dwarfs, are so faint that only
During the 1980s, however, refinements a few have been detected directly. In the
in the determination of the velocity curve 1990s, astronomers carried out exhaus-
began to cast doubts on the earlier results. tive lensing experiments involving the
The downward trend to lower velocities study of millions of stars in the galactic
in the outer parts of the Galaxy was found central areas and in the Magellanic
28 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Clouds to search for dark objects whose characteristics around the Galaxy. Under­
masses would cause lensed brightenings standing of evolutionary differences,
of background stars. Some lensing events however, had not yet been achieved, and,
were detected, but the number of dark although differences in the chemical
objects inferred is not enough to explain abundances in the stars were known, their
completely the dark matter in galaxies significance was not comprehended. At
and galaxy clusters. It appears likely that this juncture, chemical differences seemed
there is more than one form of dark exceptional and erratic and remained
matter, with the most important being uncorrelated with other stellar properties.
hypothetical types of objects, such as There was still no systematic division of
WIMPs (weakly interacting massive stars even into different kinematic fami-
particles). lies, in spite of the advances in theoretical
work on the dynamics of the Galaxy.
Star populations
and movement Principal Population Types

The Milky Way Galaxy is made up of In 1944 the German-born astronomer

about one hundred billion stars. Stars Walter Baade announced the successful
come in many different masses, from a resolution into stars of the centre of the
few percent that of the Sun to a hundred Andromeda Galaxy, M31, and its two
times greater. Stars also appear in differ- elliptical companions, M32 and NGC 205.
ent colours, from a dim, cool red to an He found that the central parts of Androm­
incandescent blue. Despite their different eda and the accompanying galaxies were
properties, stars can be divided into pop- resolved at very much fainter magnitudes
ulations. The differences between the than were the outer spiral arm areas of
populations can also be seen in how stars M31. Furthermore, by using plates of dif-
are distributed and how they move. ferent spectral sensitivity and coloured
filters, he discovered that the two ellipti-
Stars and Stellar cals and the centre of the spiral had red
Populations giants as their brightest stars rather than
blue main-sequence stars, as in the case
The concept of different populations of of the spiral arms.
stars has undergone considerable change This finding led Baade to suggest
over the last several decades. Before the that these galaxies, and also the Milky
1940s, astronomers had been aware of Way Galaxy, are made of two populations
differences between stars and had largely of stars that are distinct in their physical
accounted for most of them in terms of properties as well as their locations. He
different masses, luminosities, and orbital applied the term Population I to the stars
The Milky Way Galaxy | 29

that constitute the spiral arms of system, contains such objects as open star
Andromeda and to most of the stars that clusters, O and B stars, Cepheid variables,
are visible in the Milky Way system in emission nebulae, and neutral hydrogen.
the neighbourhood of the Sun. He found Its Population II component, spread over
that these Population I objects were lim- a more nearly spherical volume of space,
ited to the flat disk of the spirals and includes globular clusters, RR Lyrae
suggested that they were absent from variables, high-velocity stars, and certain
the centres of such galaxies and from the other rarer objects.
ellipticals entirely. Baade designated as As time progressed, it was possible
Population II the bright red giant stars for astronomers to subdivide the different
that he discovered in the ellipticals and in populations in the Galaxy further. These
the nucleus of Andromeda. Other objects subdivisions ranged from the nearly
that seemed to contain the brightest stars spherical “halo Population II” system to
of this class were the globular clusters of the very thin “extreme Population I” sys-
the Galaxy. Baade further suggested that tem. Each subdivision was found to
the high-velocity stars near the Sun were contain (though not exclusively) charac-
Population II objects that happened to be teristic types of stars, and it was even
passing through the disk. possible to divide some of the variable-
As a result of Baade’s pioneering star types into subgroups according to
work on other galaxies in the Local Group their population subdivision. The RR
(the cluster of star systems to which the Lyrae variables of type ab, for example,
Milky Way Galaxy belongs), astronomers could be separated into different groups
immediately applied the notion of two by their spectral classifications and their
stellar populations to the Galaxy. It is mean periods. Those with mean periods
possible to segregate various compo- longer than 0.4 days were classified as
nents of the Galaxy into the two halo Population II, while those with
population types by applying both the periods less than 0.4 days were placed
idea of kinematics of different popula- in the “disk population.” Similarly, long-
tions suggested by their position in the period variables were divided into
Andromeda system and the dynamical different subgroups, such that those
theories that relate galactic orbital prop- with periods of less than 250 days and of
erties with z distances (the distances relatively early spectral type (earlier than
above the plane of the Galaxy) for differ- M5e) were considered “intermediate
ent stars. For many of these objects, the Population II,” whereas the longer period
kinematic data on velocities are the prime variables fell into the “older Population I”
source of population classification. The category. As dynamical properties were
Population I component of the Galaxy, more thoroughly investigated, many
highly limited to the flat plane of the astronomers divided the Galaxy’s stellar
30 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

populations into a “thin disk,” a “thick Sun. Population II stars have considerably
disk,” and a “halo.” lower abundances of the heavy elements—
An understanding of the physical dif- by amounts ranging from a factor of 5 or
ferences in the stellar populations became 10 up to a factor of several hundred. The
increasingly clearer during the 1950s total abundance of heavy elements, Z, for
with improved calculations of stellar evo- typical Population I stars is 0.04 (given in
lution. Evolving-star models showed that terms of the mass percent for all elements
giants and supergiants were evolved with atomic weights heavier than helium,
objects recently derived from the main a common practice in calculating stellar
sequence (a distinctive, primary band of models). The values of Z for halo popula-
stars) after the exhaustion of hydrogen in tion globular clusters, on the other hand,
the stellar core. As this became better were typically as small as 0.003.
understood, it was found that the lumi- A further difference between the two
nosity of such giants was not only a populations became clear as the study of
function of the masses of the initial main- stellar evolution advanced. It was found
sequence stars from which they evolved, that Population II was exclusively made
but was also dependent on the chemical up of stars that are very old. Estimates of
composition of the stellar atmosphere. the age of Population II stars have varied
Therefore, not only was the existence of over the years, depending on the degree
giants in the different stellar populations of sophistication of the calculated mod-
understood, but differences between the els and the manner in which observations
giants with relation to the main sequence for globular clusters are fitted to these
of star groups came to be understood in models. They have ranged from 109 years
terms of the chemistry of the stars. up to 2 × 1010 years. Recent comparisons
At the same time, progress was made of these data suggest that the halo globu-
in determining the abundances of stars lar clusters have ages of approximately
of the different population types by 1.1–1.3 × 1010 years. The work of American
means of high-dispersion spectra obtained astronomer Allan Sandage and his col-
with large reflecting telescopes having a laborators proved without a doubt that
coudé focus arrangement. A curve of the range in age for globular clusters was
growth analysis demonstrated beyond a relatively small and that the detailed
doubt that the two population types characteristics of the giant branches of
exhibited very different chemistries. In their colour-magnitude diagrams were
1959 H. Lawrence Helfer, George correlated with age and small differences
Wallerstein, and Jesse L. Greenstein of in chemical abundances.
the United States showed that the giant On the other hand, stars of Population
stars in globular clusters have chemical I were found to have a wide range of ages.
abundances quite different from those of Stellar associations and galactic clusters
Population I stars such as typified by the with bright blue main-sequence stars
The Milky Way Galaxy | 31

have ages of a few million years (stars are nearly pure Population II, while irregular
still in the process of forming in some of galaxies are dominated by a thick disk of
them) to a few hundred million years. Population I, with only a small number of
Studies of the stars nearest the Sun indi- Population II stars. Furthermore, the pop-
cate a mixture of ages with a considerable ulations vary with galaxy mass; while the
number of stars of great age—on the order Milky Way Galaxy, a massive example of
of 109 years. Careful searches, however, a spiral galaxy, contains no stars of young
have shown that there are no stars in the age and a low heavy-metal abundance,
solar neighbourhood and no galactic low-mass galaxies, such as the dwarf
clusters whatsoever that are older than irregulars, contain young, low heavy-
the globular clusters. This is an indica- element stars, as the buildup of heavy
tion that globular clusters, and thus elements in stars has not proceeded far
Population II objects, formed first in the in such small galaxies.
Galaxy and that Population I stars have
been forming since. The Stellar Luminosity Function
In short, as the understanding of stel-
lar populations grew, the division into The stellar luminosity function is a
Population I and Population II became description of the relative number of
understood in terms of three parameters: stars of different absolute luminosities. It
age, chemical composition, and kine- is often used to describe the stellar con-
matics. (A fourth parameter, spatial tent of various parts of the Galaxy or
distribution, appeared to be clearly other groups of stars, but it most com-
another manifestation of kinematics.) monly refers to the absolute number of
The correlations among these three stars of different absolute magnitudes in
parameters were not perfect but seemed the solar neighbourhood. In this form it is
to be reasonably good for the Galaxy, usually called the van Rhijn function,
even though it was not yet known whether named after the Dutch astronomer Pieter
these correlations were applicable to J. van Rhijn. The van Rhijn function is a
other galaxies. As various types of galax- basic datum for the local portion of the
ies were explored more completely, it Galaxy, but it is not necessarily repre-
became clear that the mix of populations sentative for an area larger than the
in galaxies was correlated with their immediate solar neighbourhood. Invest­
Hubble type, which separates galaxies igators have found that elsewhere in the
into ellipticals, barred spirals, and spirals Galaxy, and in the external galaxies (as
without bars. Spiral galaxies such as the well as in star clusters), the form of the
Milky Way Galaxy have Population I con- luminosity function differs in various
centrated in the spiral disk and Population respects from the van Rhijn function.
II spread out in a thick disk and/or a The detailed determination of the lumi-
spherical halo. Elliptical galaxies are nosity function of the solar neighbourhood
32 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

is an extremely complicated process. the best samples to use for determining

Difficulties arise because of (1) the incom- the luminosity function of old stars hav-
pleteness of existing surveys of stars of ing a low abundance of heavy elements
all luminosities in any sample of space (Population II stars).
and (2) the uncertainties in the basic data Globular-cluster luminosity func-
(distances and magnitudes). In determin- tions show a conspicuous peak at absolute
ing the van Rhijn function, it is normally magnitude MV = 0.5, and this is clearly
preferable to specify exactly what volume due to the enrichment of stars at that
of space is being sampled and to state magnitude from the horizontal branch of
explicitly the way in which problems of the cluster. The height of this peak in the
incompleteness and data uncertainties data is related to the richness of the hori-
are handled. zontal branch, which is in turn related to
In general there are four different meth- the age and chemical composition of the
ods for determining the local luminosity stars in the cluster. A comparison of
function. Most commonly, trigonometric the observed M3 luminosity function
parallaxes are employed as the basic with the van Rhijn function shows a
sample. Alternative but somewhat less depletion of stars, relative to fainter
certain methods include the use of spec- stars, for absolute magnitudes brighter
troscopic parallaxes, which can involve than roughly MV = 3.5. This discrepancy
much larger volumes of space. A third is important in the discussion of the
method entails the use of mean paral- physical significance of the van Rhijn
laxes of a star of a given proper motion function and luminosity functions for
and apparent magnitude; this yields a clusters of different ages and so will be
statistical sample of stars of approxi- dealt with more fully below.
mately known and uniform distance. The Many studies of the component stars
fourth method involves examining the of open clusters have shown that the
distribution of proper motions and tan- luminosity functions of these objects vary
gential velocities (the speeds at which widely. The two most conspicuous differ-
stellar objects move at right angles to the ences are the overabundance of stars of
line of sight) of stars near the Sun. brighter absolute luminosities and the
Because the solar neighbourhood is a underabundance or absence of stars of
mixture of stars of various ages and dif- faint absolute luminosities. The over-
ferent types, it is difficult to interpret the abundance at the bright end is clearly
van Rhijn function in physical terms with- related to the age of the cluster (as deter-
out recourse to other sources of mined from the main-sequence turnoff
information, such as the study of star point) in the sense that younger star clus-
clusters of various types, ages, and ters have more of the highly luminous
dynamical families. Globular clusters are stars. This is completely understandable
The Milky Way Galaxy | 33

Colour-magnitude (Hertzsprung-Russell) diagram for an old globular cluster made up of

Population II stars. From Astrophysical Journal, reproduced by permission of the American
Astronomical Society

in terms of the evolution of the clusters when compared with the van Rhijn func-
and can be accounted for in detail by cal- tion, clearly shows a large overabundance
culations of the rate of evolution of stars of bright stars due to the extremely young
of different absolute magnitudes and age of the cluster, which is on the order of
mass. For example, the luminosity func- 106 years. Calculations of stellar evolution
tion for the young clusters h and χ Persei, indicate that in an additional 109 or 1010
34 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

years all of these stars will have evolved calculations of the rate of evolution of
away and disappeared from the bright stars of different masses and luminosi-
end of the luminosity function. ties, he showed that it is possible to apply
In 1955 the first detailed attempt to a correction to the van Rhijn function in
interpret the shape of the general van order to obtain the form of the initial
Rhijn luminosity function was made by luminosity function. Comparisons of
the Austrian-born American astronomer open clusters of various ages have
Edwin E. Salpeter, who pointed out that shown that these clusters agree much
the change in slope of this function near more closely with the initial formation
MV = +3.5 is most likely the result of the function than with the van Rhijn func-
depletion of the stars brighter than this tion; this is especially true for the very
limit. Salpeter noted that this particular young clusters. Consequently, investiga-
absolute luminosity is very close to the tors believe that the formation function,
turnoff point of the main sequence for as derived by Salpeter, is a reasonable
stars of an age equal to the oldest in the representation of the distribution of star
solar neighbourhood—approximately 1010 luminosities at the time of formation,
years. Thus, all stars of the luminosity even though they are not certain that the
function with fainter absolute magni- assumption of a uniform rate of forma-
tudes have not suffered depletion of their tion of stars can be precisely true or that
numbers because of stellar evolution, as the rate is uniform throughout a galaxy.
there has not been enough time for them It has been stated that open-cluster
to have evolved from the main sequence. luminosity functions show two discrep-
On the other hand, the ranks of stars of ancies when compared with the van Rhijn
brighter absolute luminosity have been function. The first is due to the evolution
variously depleted by evolution, and so of stars from the bright end of the lumi-
the form of the luminosity function in nosity function such that young clusters
this range is a composite curve contrib- have too many stars of high luminosity,
uted by stars of ages ranging from 0 to as compared with the solar neighbour-
1010 years. hood. The second discrepancy is that
Salpeter hypothesized that there very old clusters such as the globular
might exist a time-independent function, clusters have too few high-luminosity
the so-called formation function, which stars, as compared with the van Rhijn
would describe the general initial distri- function, and this is clearly the result of
bution of luminosities, taking into stellar evolution away from the main
account all stars at the time of formation. sequence. Stars do not, however, disap-
Then, by assuming that the rate of star pear completely from the luminosity
formation in the solar neighbourhood function; most become white dwarfs and
has been uniform since the beginning of reappear at the faint end. In his early
this process and by using available comparisons of formation functions with
The Milky Way Galaxy | 35

luminosity functions of galactic clusters, the faint end and because of variations
Sandage calculated the number of white at the bright end, the local density distri-
dwarfs expected in various clusters; pres- bution is not simply derived nor is there
ent searches for these objects in a few of agreement between different studies in
the clusters (e.g., the Hyades) have sup- the final result.
ported his conclusions. In the vicinity of the Sun, stellar den-
Open clusters also disagree with the sity can be determined from the various
van Rhijn function at the faint end—i.e., surveys of nearby stars and from esti-
for absolute magnitudes fainter than mates of their completeness. For example,
approximately MV = +6. In all likelihood Wilhelm Gliese’s catalog of nearby stars, a
this is mainly due to a depletion of commonly used resource, contains 1,049
another sort, the result of dynamical stars in a volume within a radius of 65 light-
effects on the clusters that arise because years. This is a density of about 0.001 stars
of internal and external forces. Stars of per cubic light-year. However, even this
low mass in such clusters escape from catalog is incomplete, and its incomplete-
the system under certain common con- ness is probably attributable to the fact
ditions. The formation functions for that it is difficult to detect the faintest stars
these clusters may be different from the and faint companions, especially extremely
Salpeter function and may exclude faint faint stars such as brown dwarfs.
stars. A further effect is the result of the In short, the true density of stars in
finite amount of time it takes for stars to the solar neighbourhood is difficult to
condense; very young clusters have few establish. The value most commonly
faint stars partly because there has not quoted is 0.003 stars per cubic light-year,
been sufficient time for them to have a value obtained by integrating the van
reached their main-sequence luminosity. Rhijn luminosity function with a cutoff
taken M = 14.3. This is, however, distinctly
Density Distribution smaller than the true density as calcu-
lated for the most complete sampling
The density distribution of stars near the volume discussed above and is therefore
Sun can be used to calculate the mass an underestimate. Gliese has estimated
density of material (in the form of stars) that when incompleteness of the catalogs
at the Sun’s distance within the Galaxy. It is taken into account, the true stellar den-
is therefore of interest not only from the sity is on the order of 0.004 stars per cubic
point of view of stellar statistics but also light-year, which includes the probable
in relation to galactic dynamics. In prin- number of unseen companions of multiple
ciple, the density distribution can be systems.
calculated by integrating the stellar lumi- The density distribution of stars can
nosity function. In practice, because of be combined with the luminosity-mass
uncertainties in the luminosity function at relationship to obtain the mass density in
36 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the solar neighbourhood, which includes ations within the plane is dealt with here.
only stars and not interstellar material. Density variations are conspicuous
This mass density is 4 × 10−24 g/cm3. for early type stars (i.e., stars of higher
temperatures) even after allowance has
Density Distribution of been made for interstellar absorption. For
Various Types of Stars the stars earlier than type B3, for example,
large stellar groupings in which the den-
To examine what kinds of stars contribute sity is abnormally high are conspicuous
to the overall density distribution in the in several galactic longitudes. The Sun,
solar neighbourhood, various statistical in fact, appears to be in a somewhat lower
sampling arguments can be applied to density region than the immediate sur-
catalogs and lists of stars. For rare objects, roundings, where early B stars are
such as globular clusters, the volume of relatively scarce. There is a conspicuous
the sample must of course be rather large grouping of stars, sometimes called the
compared with that required to calculate Cassiopeia-Taurus Group, that has a cen-
the density for more common stars. troid at approximately 600 light-years
The most common stars and those distance. A deficiency of early type stars
that contribute the most to the local stellar is readily noticeable, for instance, in the
mass density are the dwarf M (dM) stars, direction of the constellation Perseus at
which provide a total of 0.0008 solar distances beyond 600 light-years. Of
masses per cubic light-year. It is inter- course, the nearby stellar associations are
esting to note that RR Lyrae variables striking density anomalies for early type
and planetary nebulae—though many stars in the solar neighbourhood. The
are known and thoroughly studied— early type stars within 2,000 light-years
contribute almost imperceptibly to the are significantly concentrated at negative
local star density. At the same time, white galactic latitudes. This is a manifestation
dwarf stars, which are difficult to observe of a phenomenon referred to as the Gould
and of which very few are known, are Belt, a tilt of the nearby bright stars in
among the more significant contributors. this direction with respect to the galactic
plane first noted by the English astrono-
Variations in the Stellar Density mer John Herschel in 1847. Such
anomalous behaviour is true only for the
The star density in the solar neighbour- immediate neighbourhood of the Sun;
hood is not perfectly uniform. The most faint B stars are strictly concentrated
conspicuous variations occur in the z along the galactic equator.
direction, above and below the plane of the Generally speaking, the large varia-
Galaxy, where the number density falls off tions in stellar density near the Sun are
rapidly. This will be considered separately less conspicuous for the late type dwarf
below. The more difficult problem of vari- stars (those of lower temperatures) than
The Milky Way Galaxy | 37

for the earlier types. This fact is explained of the ratio of star densities in the centre of
as the result of the mixing of stellar spiral arms and in the interarm regions.
orbits over long time intervals available The most commonly accepted theoretical
for the older stars, which are primarily representation of spiral structure, that of
those stars of later spectral types. The the density-wave theory, suggests that this
young stars (O, B, and A types) are still ratio is on the order of 0.6, but, for a com-
close to the areas of star formation and plicated and distorted spiral structure such
show a common motion and common as apparently occurs in the Galaxy, there is
concentration due to initial formation no confidence that this figure corresponds
distributions. In this connection it is very accurately with reality. On the other
interesting to note that the concentration hand, fluctuations in other galaxies can be
of A-type stars at galactic longitudes estimated from photometry of the spiral
160° to 210° is coincident with a similar arms and the interarm regions, provided
concentration of hydrogen detected by that some indication of the nature of this
means of 21-cm (8-inch) line radiation. stellar luminosity function at each posi-
Correlations between densities of early tion is available from colours or
type stars on the one hand and inter- spectrophotometry. Estimates of the star
stellar hydrogen on the other are density measured across the arms of spiral
conspicuous but not fixed; there are galaxies and into the interarm regions
areas where neutral-hydrogen concentra- show that the large-scale spiral structure
tions exist but for which no anomalous of a galaxy of this type is, at least in many
star density is found. cases, represented by only a relatively
The variations discussed above are small fluctuation in star density.
primarily small-scale fluctuations in star It is clear from studies of the external
density rather than the large-scale phe- galaxies that the range in star densities
nomena so strikingly apparent in the existing in nature is immense. For example,
structure of other galaxies. Sampling is too the density of stars at the centre of the
difficult and too limited to detect the spiral nearby Andromeda spiral galaxy has
structure from the variations in the star been determined to equal 100,000 solar
densities for normal stars, although a hint masses per cubic light-year, while the
of the spiral structure can be seen in the density at the centre of the Ursa Minor
distribution in the earliest type stars and dwarf elliptical galaxy is only 0.00003
stellar associations. In order to determine solar masses per cubic light-year.
the true extent in the star-density varia-
tions corresponding to these large-scale Variation of Star Density
structural features, it is necessary to turn with z Distances
either to theoretical representations of the
spiral structures or to other galaxies. From For all stars, variation of star density
the former it is possible to find estimates above and below the galactic plane
38 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

rapidly decreases with height. Stars of proper motion and radial velocity can be
different types, however, exhibit widely measured. Proper motion is the motion of
differing behaviour in this respect, and a star across an observer’s line of sight
this tendency is one of the important and constitutes the rate at which the
clues as to the kinds of stars that occur in direction of the star changes in the celes-
different stellar populations. tial sphere. It is usually measured in
The luminosity function of stars is dif- seconds of arc per year. Radial velocity is
ferent at different galactic latitudes, and the motion of a star along the line of
this is still another phenomenon connected sight and as such is the speed with which
with the z distribution of stars of different the star approaches or recedes from the
types. At a height of z = 3,000 light-years, observer. It is expressed in kilometres per
stars of absolute magnitude 13 and fainter second and is given as either a positive or
are nearly as abundant as at the galactic negative figure, depending on whether
plane, while stars with absolute magnitude the star is moving away from or toward the
0 are depleted by a factor of 100. observer.
The values of the scale height for vari- Astronomers are able to measure
ous kinds of objects form the basis for the both the proper motions and radial veloc-
segregation of these objects into different ities of stars lying near the Sun. They can,
population types. Such objects as open however, determine only the radial veloc-
clusters and Cepheid variables that have ities of stellar objects in more distant
very small values of the scale height are parts of the Galaxy and so must use these
the objects most restricted to the plane data, along with the information gleaned
of the Galaxy, while globular clusters and from the local sample of nearby stars, to
other extreme Population II objects have ascertain the large-scale motions of stars
scale heights of thousands of parsecs, in the Milky Way system.
indicating little or no concentration at
the plane. Such data and the variation of Proper Motions
star density with z distance bear on the
mixture of stellar orbit types. They show The proper motions of the stars in the
the range from those stars having nearly immediate neighbourhood of the Sun are
circular orbits that are strictly limited to a usually very large, as compared with
very flat volume centred at the galactic those of most other stars. Those of stars
plane to stars with highly elliptical orbits within 17 light-years of the Sun, for
that are not restricted to the plane. instance, range from 0.49 to 10.31 arc sec-
onds per year. The latter value is that of
Stellar Motions Barnard’s star, which is the star with the
largest known proper motion. The tan-
A complete knowledge of a star’s motion gential velocity of Barnard’s star is 90
in space is possible only when both its km/sec (56 miles/sec), and, from its radial
The Milky Way Galaxy | 39

velocity (−108 km/sec [-67 miles/sec]) velocities range from −119 km/sec (-74
and distance (6 light-years), astronomers miles/sec) to +245 km/sec (+152 miles/
have found that its space velocity (total sec). Most values are on the order of ±20
velocity with respect to the Sun) is 140 km/sec (±12 miles/sec), with a mean value
km/sec (87 miles/sec). The distance to of −6 km/sec (-4 miles/sec).
this star is rapidly decreasing; it will reach
a minimum value of 3.5 light-years in Space Motions
about the year 11,800.
Space motions are made up of a three-
Radial Velocities dimensional determination of stellar
motion. They may be divided into a set of
Radial velocities, measured along the line components related to directions in the
of sight spectroscopically using the Galaxy: U, directed away from the galac-
Doppler effect, are not known for all of tic centre; V, in the direction of galactic
the recognized stars near the Sun. Of the rotation; and W, toward the north galactic
55 systems within 17 light-years, only 40 pole. For the nearby stars the average val-
have well-determined radial velocities. ues for these galactic components are as
The radial velocities of the rest are not follows:
known, either because of faintness or
because of problems resulting from the U = −8 km/sec, V = −28 km/sec, and
nature of their spectrum. For example, W = −12 km/sec (U = -5 miles/sec,
radial velocities of white dwarfs are often V = −17 miles/sec, and W = -7 miles/sec)
very difficult to obtain because of the
extremely broad and faint spectral lines These values are fairly similar to those for
in some of these objects. Moreover, the the galactic circular velocity components,
radial velocities that are determined for which give
such stars are subject to further compli-
cation because a gravitational redshift U = −9 km/sec, V = −12 km/sec, and
generally affects the positions of their W = −7 km/sec (U = −5 miles/sec,
spectral lines. The average gravitational V = -7 miles/sec, and W = -4 miles/sec)
redshift for white dwarfs has been shown
to be the equivalent of a velocity of −51 Note that the largest difference between
km/sec (-32 miles/sec). To study the true these two sets of values is for the average
motions of these objects, it is necessary V, which shows an excess of 16 km/sec
to make such a correction to the observed (10 miles/second) for the nearby stars
shifts of their spectral lines. as compared with the circular velocity.
For nearby stars, radial velocities are Since V is the velocity in the direction of
with very few exceptions rather small. For galactic rotation, this can be understood
stars closer than 17 light-years, radial as resulting from the presence of stars in
40 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the local neighbourhood that have sig- The very large value for V indicates that,
nificantly elliptical orbits for which the with respect to circular velocity, this star
apparent velocity in this direction is has practically no motion in the direction
much less than the circular velocity. of galactic rotation at all. As the Sun’s
This fact was noted long before the motion in its orbit around the Galaxy is
kinematics of the Galaxy was understood estimated to be approximately 250 km/
and is referred to as the asymmetry of sec (155 miles/sec) in this direction, the
stellar motion. value V of −288 km/sec (-179 miles/sec) is
The average components of the primarily just a reflection of the solar
velocities of the local stellar neighbour- orbital motion.
hood also can be used to demonstrate
the so-called stream motion. Calculations Solar Motion
based on the Dutch-born American
astronomer Peter van de Kamp’s table of Solar motion is defined as the calculated
stars within 17 light-years, excluding the motion of the Sun with respect to a speci-
star of greatest anomalous velocity, reveal fied reference frame. In practice,
that dispersions in the V direction and calculations of solar motion provide
the W direction are approximately half the information not only on the Sun’s motion
size of the dispersion in the U direction. with respect to its neighbours in the
This is an indication of a commonality of Galaxy but also on the kinematic proper-
motion for the nearby stars; i.e., these ties of various kinds of stars within the
stars are not moving entirely at random system. These properties in turn can be
but show a preferential direction of used to deduce information on the
motion—the stream motion—confined dynamical history of the Galaxy and of
somewhat to the galactic plane and to the its stellar components. Because accurate
direction of galactic rotation. space motions can be obtained only for
individual stars in the immediate vicinity
High-Velocity Stars of the Sun (within about 100 light-years),
solutions for solar motion involving many
One of the nearest 55 stars, called Kapteyn’s stars of a given class are the prime source
star, is an example of the high-velocity of information on the patterns of motion
stars that lie near the Sun. Its observed for that class. Furthermore, astronomers
radial velocity is −245 km/sec (152 miles/ obtain information on the large-scale
sec), and the components of its space motions of galaxies in the neighbourhood
velocity are of the Galaxy from solar motion solutions
because it is necessary to know the space
U = 19 km/sec, V = −288 km/sec, and motion of the Sun with respect to the
W = −52 km/sec (U = 19 km/sec, centre of the Galaxy (its orbital motion)
V = −288 km/sec, and W = −52 km/sec) before such velocities can be calculated.
The Milky Way Galaxy | 41

The Sun’s motion can be calculated in stellar spectra caused by blends of spec-
by reference to any of three stellar motion tral lines. Of course, the K-term that arises
elements: (1) the radial velocities of stars, when a solution for solar motions is cal-
(2) the proper motions of stars, or (3) the culated for galaxies results from the
space motions of stars. expansion of the system of galaxies and is
very large if galaxies at great distances
Solar Motion Calculations from the Milky Way Galaxy are included.
from Radial Velocities
Solar Motion Calculations
For objects beyond the immediate neigh- From Proper Motions
bourhood of the Sun, only radial velocities
can be measured. Initially it is necessary Solutions for solar motion based on the
to choose a standard of rest (the reference proper motions of the stars in proper
frame) from which the solar motion is to be motion catalogs can be carried out even
calculated. This is usually done by select- when the distances are not known and the
ing a particular kind of star or a portion radial velocities are not given. It is neces-
of space. To solve for solar motion, two sary to consider groups of stars of limited
assumptions are made. The first is that dispersion in distance so as to have a well-
the stars that form the standard of rest are defined and reasonably spatially-uniform
symmetrically distributed over the sky, and reference frame. This can be accomplished
the second is that the peculiar motions—the by limiting the selection of stars accord-
motions of individual stars with respect ing to their apparent magnitudes. The
to that standard of rest—are randomly procedure is the same as the above except
distributed. Considering the geometry then that the proper motion components are
provides a mathematical solution for the used instead of the radial velocities. The
motion of the Sun through the average average distance of the stars of the refer-
rest frame of the stars being considered. ence frame enters into the solution of
In astronomical literature where solar these equations and is related to the term
motion solutions are published, there is often referred to as the secular parallax.
often employed a “K-term,” a term that is The secular parallax is defined as 0.24h/r,
added to the equations to account for where h is the solar motion in astronomi-
systematic errors, the stream motions of cal units per year and r is the mean
stars, or the expansion or contraction of the distance for the solar motion solution.
member stars of the reference frame.
Recent determinations of solar motion Solar Motion Calculations
from high-dispersion radial velocities have From Space Motions
suggested that most previous K-terms
(which averaged a few kilometres per sec- For nearby well-observed stars, it is possible
ond) were the result of systematic errors to determine complete space motions and
42 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

to use these for calculating the solar motion. interest. If stars within about 80 light-
One must have six quantities: α (the right years of the Sun are used exclusively, the
ascension of the star); δ (the declination result is often called the standard solar
of the star); μα (the proper motion in right motion. This average, taken for all kinds
ascension); μδ (the proper motion in decli- of stars, leads to a velocity
nation); ρ (the radial velocity as reduced
to the Sun); and r (the distance of the star). V = 19.5 km/sec (12 miles/sec)
To find the solar motion, one calculates
the velocity components of each star of the The apex of this solar motion is in the
sample and the averages of all of these. direction of
Solar motion solutions give values for
the Sun’s motion in terms of velocity com- α = 270°, δ = +30°.
ponents, which are normally reduced to a
single velocity and a direction. The direc- The exact values depend on the selection
tion in which the Sun is apparently moving of data and method of solution. These
with respect to the reference frame is values suggest that the Sun’s motion with
called the apex of solar motion. In addi- respect to its neighbours is moderate but
tion, the calculation of the solar motion certainly not zero. The velocity difference
provides dispersion in velocity. Such dis- is larger than the velocity dispersions for
persions are as intrinsically interesting as common stars of the earlier spectral types,
the solar motions themselves because a but it is very similar in value to the disper-
dispersion is an indication of the integrity sion for stars of a spectral type similar to
of the selection of stars used as a reference the Sun. The solar velocity for, say, G5
frame and of its uniformity of kinematic stars is 10 km/sec (6 miles/sec), and the
properties. It is found, for example, that dispersion is 21 km/sec (13 miles/sec).
dispersions are very small for certain kinds Thus, the Sun’s motion can be considered
of stars (e.g., A-type stars, all of which fairly typical for its class in its neighbour-
apparently have nearly similar, almost hood. The peculiar motion of the Sun is
circular orbits in the Galaxy) and are very a result of its relatively large age and a
large for some other kinds of objects (e.g., somewhat noncircular orbit. It is generally
the RR Lyrae variables, which show a dis- true that stars of later spectral types show
persion of almost 100 km/sec [62 miles/ both greater dispersions and greater val-
sec] due to the wide variation in the shapes ues for solar motion, and this characteristic
and orientations of orbits for these stars). is interpreted to be the result of a mixture
of orbital properties for the later spectral
Solar Motion Solutions types, with increasingly large numbers of
stars having more highly elliptical orbits.
The motion of the Sun with respect to The term basic solar motion has been
the nearest common stars is of primary used by some astronomers to define the
The Milky Way Galaxy | 43

motion of the Sun relative to stars mov- mixture of young and old. Connected
ing in its neighbourhood in perfectly with this is the fact that the solar motion
circular orbits around the galactic centre. apex shows a trend for the latitude to
The basic solar motion differs from the decrease and the longitude to increase
standard solar motion because of the non- with later spectral types.
circular motion of the Sun and because of The solar motion can be based on ref-
the contamination of the local population erence frames defined by various kinds of
of stars by the presence of older stars in stars and clusters of astrophysical inter-
noncircular orbits within the limits of est. Data of this sort are interesting
the reference frame. The most commonly because of the way in which they make it
quoted value for the basic solar motion is possible to distinguish between objects
a velocity of 16.5 km/sec (10 miles/sec) with different kinematic properties in the
toward an apex with a position Galaxy. For example, it is clear that inter-
stellar calcium lines have relatively small
α = 265°, δ = 25°. solar motion and extremely small dis-
persion because they are primarily
When the solutions for solar motion connected with the dust that is limited to
are determined according to the spectral the galactic plane and with objects that
class of the stars, there is a correlation are decidedly of the Population I class.
between the result and the spectral class. On the other hand, RR Lyrae variables
The apex of the solar motion, the solar and globular clusters have very large val-
motion velocity, and its dispersion are all ues of solar motion and very large
correlated with spectral type. Generally dispersions, indicating that they are
speaking (with the exception of the very extreme Population II objects that do not
early type stars), the solar motion veloc- all equally share in the rotational motion
ity increases with decreasing temperature of the Galaxy. The solar motion of these
of the stars, ranging from 16 km/sec (10 various objects is an important consider-
miles/sec) for late B-type and early A-type ation in determining to what population
stars to 24 km/sec (15 miles/sec) for late the objects belong and what their kine-
K-type and early M-type stars. The dis- matic history has been.
persion similarly increases from a value When some of these classes of objects
near 10 km/sec (6 miles/sec) to a value of are examined in greater detail, it is possible
22 km/sec (14 miles/sec). The reason for to separate them into subgroups and
this is related to the dynamical history of find correlations with other astrophysical
the Galaxy and the mean age and mixture properties. Take, for example, globular
of ages for stars of the different spectral clusters, for which the solar motion is
types. It is quite clear, for example, that correlated with the spectral type of the
stars of early spectral type are all young, clusters. The clusters of spectral types
whereas stars of late spectral type are a G0–G5 (the more metal-rich clusters)
44 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

have a mean solar motion of 80 ± 82 km/ to be 225 km/sec (140 miles/sec) in the
sec (50 ± 51 miles/sec) (corrected for the direction
standard solar motion). The earlier type
globular clusters of types F2–F9, on the ℓII = 90°.
other hand, have a mean velocity of 162 ±
36 km/sec (101 ± 22 miles/sec), suggesting It is not a firmly established number, but
that they partake much less extensively it is used by convention in most studies.
in the general rotation of the Galaxy. In order to arrive at a clear idea of the
Similarly, the most distant globular clus- Sun’s motion in the Galaxy as well as of
ters have a larger solar motion than the the motion of the Galaxy with respect to
ones closer to the galactic centre. Studies neighbouring systems, solar motion has
of RR Lyrae variables also show correla- been studied with respect to the Local
tions of this sort. The period of an RR Group galaxies and those in nearby space.
Lyrae variable, for example, is correlated Hubble determined the Sun’s motion with
with its motion with respect to the Sun. respect to the galaxies beyond the Local
For type ab RR Lyrae variables, periods Group and found the value of 300 km/sec
frequently vary from 0.3 to 0.7 days, and (186 miles/sec) in the direction toward
the range of solar motion for this range of galactic longitude 120°, latitude +35°. This
period extends from 30 to 205 km/sec (18 velocity includes the Sun’s motion in rela-
± 127 miles/sec), respectively. This condi- tion to its proper circular velocity, its
tion is believed to be primarily the result circular velocity around the galactic cen-
of the effects of the spread in age and tre, the motion of the Galaxy with respect
composition for the RR Lyrae variables in to the Local Group, and the latter’s motion
the field, which is similar to, but larger with respect to its neighbours.
than, the spread in the properties of the One further question can be consid-
globular clusters. ered: What is the solar motion with respect
Since the direction of the centre of to the universe? In the 1990s the Cosmic
the Galaxy is well established by radio Background Explorer first determined a
measurements and since the galactic reliable value for the velocity and direction
plane is clearly established by both radio of solar motion with respect to the nearby
and optical studies, it is possible to universe. The solar system is headed
determine the motion of the Sun with toward the constellation Leo with a veloc-
respect to a fixed frame of reference ity of 370 km/sec (230 miles/sec). This
centred at the Galaxy and not rotating value was confirmed in the 2000s by an
(i.e., tied to the external galaxies). The even more sensitive space telescope, the
value for this motion is generally accepted Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.

T he Milky Way Galaxy is made up of one hundred billion

of those tantalizing points of light called stars, the massive,
self-luminous celestial bodies of gas that shine by radiation
derived from their internal energy sources. Our Sun is a star. Of
the tens of billions of trillions of stars composing the observable
universe, only a very small percentage are visible to the naked
eye. Many stars occur in pairs, multiple systems, and star clusters.
Members of such stellar groups are physically related through
common origin and bound by mutual gravitational attraction.
Somewhat related to star clusters are stellar associations, which
consist of loose groups of physically similar stars insufficient
mass as a group to remain together as an organization.


To say that stars are balls of gas that shine through the workings
of their internal energy does not do justice to their full nature
and complexity. Not all stars are like our Sun. Some stars are
massive giants doomed to burn away in merely millions of years.
Others are dim brown dwarfs that are in some ways like stars
and in others like the even smaller giant planets.

Size and Activity

The Sun seems like an impressive star. It casts aside the

gloom of night and bathes the entire planet in its life-giving
46 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

rays. However, when the Sun is consid- Sun. Sirius A and Vega, though much
ered among stars, it is merely average in brighter, also are dwarf stars; their higher
its size and the activity of its winds. temperatures yield a larger rate of emis-
sion per unit area. Aldebaran A, Arcturus,
Variations in Stellar Size and Capella A are examples of giant stars,
whose dimensions are much larger than
With regard to mass, size, and intrinsic those of the Sun. Observations with an
brightness, the Sun is a typical star. Its interferometer (an instrument that mea-
approximate mass is 2 × 1030 kg (about sures the angle subtended by the diameter
330,000 Earth masses), its approximate of a star at the observer’s position), com-
radius 700,000 km (430,000 miles), and bined with parallax measurements, which
its approximate luminosity 4 × 1033 ergs yield a star’s distance, give sizes of 12 and
per second (or equivalently 4 × 1023 kilo- 22 solar radii for Arcturus and Aldebaran
watts of power). Other stars often have A. Betelgeuse and Antares A are examples
their respective quantities measured in of supergiant stars. The latter has a radius
terms of those of the Sun. some 300 times that of the Sun, whereas
The table lists data pertaining to the the variable star Betelgeuse oscillates
20 brightest stars, or, more precisely, stel- between roughly 300 and 600 solar radii.
lar systems, since some of them are Several of the stellar class of white
double (binary stars) or even triple stars. dwarf stars, which have low luminosities
Successive columns give the name of the and high densities, also are listed. Sirius
star, its brightness expressed in units B is a prime example, having a radius
called visual magnitudes and the spectral one-thousandth that of the Sun, which is
type or types to which the star or its com- comparable to the size of Earth. Among
ponents belong, the distance in light-years other notable stars, Rigel A is a young
(a light-year being the distance that light supergiant in the constellation Orion,
waves travel in one Earth year: 9.46 trillion and Canopus is a bright beacon in the
km, or 5.88 trillion miles), and the visual Southern Hemisphere often used for
luminosity in terms of that of the Sun. All spacecraft navigation.
the primary stars (designated as the A
component) are intrinsically as bright as Stellar Activity and Mass Loss
or brighter than the Sun. Some of the
companion stars are fainter. The Sun’s activity is apparently not
Many stars vary in the amount of unique. It has been found that stars of
light they radiate. Stars such as Altair, many types are active and have stellar
Alpha Centauri A and B, and Procyon A winds analogous to the solar wind. The
are called dwarf stars. Their dimensions importance and ubiquity of strong stellar
are roughly comparable to those of the winds became apparent only through
Stars | 47

The 20 brightest stars

Visual Luminosity
Visual Magnitude1 and
Distance in Relative to
Name Spectral Type
Light-years2 the Sun
A3 B3 A3 B3
Sirius –1.47 A1 V 8.44 DA 8.6 20.8 0.00225
Canopus –0.72 F0 Ib 310 13,000
Arcturus –0.04 K1.5 III 36.7 101.6
0.01 G2 V 1.34 K0 V 4.4 1.39 0.409
Vega 0.03 A0 V 25.3 45.2
Capella 0.08 4
G8 III 0.96 G0 III 42.2 120 53
Rigel 0.12 B8 I 7.5 B9 860 48,000 54
Procyon 0.38 F5 IV-V 10.7 DZ 11.4 6.66 0.0005
Achernar 0.05 B3 V 140 900
Betelgeuse 0.58 (var.) M2 l 500 10,500
Beta B2
0.6 B1 III 4 390 6,400 280
Centauri (uncertain)
Altair 0.77 A7 V 16.8 10.1
0.814 B0.5 IV 2.09 B1 V 320 3,600 1,100
Aldebaran 0.85 K5 III 65 141
Spica 1.04 B1 III–IV 250 1,700
Antares 1.09 (var.) M1.5 l 7 B2.5 V 550 8,100 35.2
Pollux 1.15 K0 III 33.7 28.6
Fomalhaut 1.16 A4 V 25.1 15.7
Deneb 1.25 A2 I 1,400 47,000
1.30 B0.5 IV 280 1,700
Negative magnitudes are brightest, and one magnitude difference corresponds to a difference in
brightness of 2.5 times; e.g., a star of magnitude –1 is 10 times brighter than one of magnitude 1.5.
One light-year equals about 9.46 trillion km.
A and B are brighter and fainter components, respectively, of the star. A multiple system is ranked
by the brightness of its A component.
Combined magnitudes of A and B.
48 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

advances in spaceborne ultraviolet and drives the solar wind, is not enough.
X-ray astronomy, as well as in radio and Instead, the winds of the hot stars must
infrared surface-based astronomy. be driven directly by the pressure of the
X-ray observations that were made energetic ultraviolet radiation emitted
during the early 1980s yielded some rather by these stars. Aside from the simple
unexpected findings. They revealed that realization that copious quantities of
nearly all types of stars are surrounded ultraviolet radiation flow from such hot
by coronas having temperatures of one stars, the details of the process are not
million kelvins (K) or more. Furthermore, well understood. Whatever is going on, it
all stars seemingly display active regions, is surely complex, for the ultraviolet
including spots, flares, and prominences spectra of the stars tend to vary with
much like those of the Sun. Some stars time, implying that the wind is not
exhibit starspots so large that an entire steady. In an effort to understand better
face of the star is relatively dark, while the variations in the rate of flow, theorists
others display flare activity thousands of are investigating possible kinds of insta-
times more intense than that on the Sun. bilities that might be peculiar to luminous
The highly luminous hot, blue stars hot stars.
have by far the strongest stellar winds. Observations made with radio and
Observations of their ultraviolet spectra infrared telescopes, as well as with opti-
with telescopes on sounding rockets and cal instruments, prove that luminous cool
spacecraft have shown that their wind stars also have winds whose total mass-
speeds often reach 3,000 km (roughly flow rates are comparable to those of
2,000 miles) per second, while losing the luminous hot stars, though their
mass at rates up to a billion times that of velocities are much lower—about 30 km
the solar wind. The corresponding mass- (20 miles) per second. Because luminous
loss rates approach and sometimes red stars are inherently cool objects
exceed one hundred-thousandth of a (having a surface temperature of about
solar mass per year, which means that 3,000 K, or half that of the Sun), they emit
one entire solar mass (perhaps a tenth of very little detectable ultraviolet or X-ray
the total mass of the star) is carried away radiation. Thus, the mechanism driving
into space in a relatively short span of the winds must differ from that in lumi-
100,000 years. Accordingly, the most nous hot stars.
luminous stars are thought to lose sub- Winds from luminous cool stars,
stantial fractions of their mass during unlike those from hot stars, are rich in
their lifetimes, which are calculated to be dust grains and molecules. Since nearly
only a few million years. all stars more massive than the Sun even-
Ultraviolet observations have proved tually evolve into such cool stars, their
that to produce such great winds the winds, pouring into space from vast num-
pressure of hot gases in a corona, which bers of stars, provide a major source of
Stars | 49

new gas and dust in interstellar space, stars. Among the ancient Greeks, the fact
thereby furnishing a vital link in the cycle that the stars did not seem to move was
of star formation and galactic evolution. evidence that Earth did not move around
As in the case of the hot stars, the specific the Sun. The real answer was that the
mechanism that drives the winds of the stars were very far away. How far away
cool stars is not understood. At this time, was not known until astronomical tech-
investigators can only surmise that gas nology had advanced far enough for
turbulence, magnetic fields, or both in the parallax techniques to be used in the 19th
atmospheres of these stars are somehow century.
Strong winds also are found to be Determining Stellar Distances
associated with objects called protostars,
which are huge gas balls that have not yet Distances to stars were first determined
become full-fledged stars in which energy by the technique of trigonometric paral-
is provided by nuclear reactions. Radio lax, a method still used for nearby stars.
and infrared observations of deuterium When the position of a nearby star is
(heavy hydrogen) and carbon monoxide measured from two points on opposite
(CO) molecules in the Orion Nebula sides of Earth’s orbit (i.e., six months
have revealed clouds of gas expanding apart), a small angular (artificial) dis-
outward at velocities approaching 100 placement is observed relative to a
km (60 miles) per second. Furthermore, background of very remote (essentially
high-resolution, very-long-baseline inter- fixed) stars. Using the radius of Earth’s
ferometry observations have disclosed orbit as the baseline, the distance of the
expanding knots of natural maser (coher- star can be found from the parallactic
ent microwave) emission of water vapour angle, p. If p = 1" (one second of arc), the
near the star-forming regions in Orion, distance of the star is 206,265 times
thus linking the strong winds to the pro- Earth’s distance from the Sun—namely,
tostars themselves. The specific causes 3.26 light-years. This unit of distance is
of these winds remain unknown, but if termed the parsec, defined as the distance
they generally accompany star formation, of an object whose parallax equals one
astronomers will have to consider the arc second. Therefore, one parsec equals
implications for the early solar system. 3.26 light-years. Since parallax is inversely
After all, the Sun was presumably once a proportional to distance, a star at 10 par-
protostar too. secs would have a parallax of 0.1". The
nearest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri (a
Distances to the Stars member of the triple system of Alpha
Centauri), has a parallax of 0.7723", mean-
For thousands of years humanity has ing that its distance is 1/0.7723, or 1.295,
wondered about how far it was to the parsecs, which equals 4.22 light-years.
50 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The parallax of Barnard’s star, the next seen at great distances, whereas the intrin-
closest after the Alpha Centauri system, sically faint stars can be observed only if
is 0.549", so that its distance is nearly 6 they are relatively close to Earth.
light-years. Errors of such parallaxes are The brightest and nearest stars fall
now typically 0.005", meaning that there roughly into three categories: (1) giant
is a 50 percent probability that a star stars and supergiant stars that are tens or
whose parallax is 0.065" lies between 14.3 even hundreds of solar radii and extremely
and 16.7 parsecs (corresponding to paral- low average densities—in fact, several
laxes of 0.070" and 0.060", respectively) orders of magnitude less than that of water
and an equal chance that it lies outside (one gram per cubic centimetre [1 cubic
that range. Thus, measurements of trigo- centimetre = .06 cubic inch]); (2) dwarf stars
nometric parallaxes are useful for only ranging from 0.1 to 5 solar radii and with
the nearby stars within a few hundred masses from 0.1 to about 10 solar masses;
light-years. In fact, of the billions of stars and (3) white dwarf stars, with masses com-
in the Milky Way Galaxy, only about 700 parable to that of the Sun but dimensions
are close enough to have their parallaxes appropriate to planets, meaning that their
measured with useful accuracy. For more average densities are hundreds of thou-
distant stars indirect methods are used. sands of times greater than that of water.
Most of them depend on comparing the These rough groupings of stars cor-
intrinsic brightness of a star (found, for respond to stages in their life histories.
example, from its spectrum or other The second category is identified with
observable property) with its apparent what is called the main sequence and
brightness. includes stars that emit energy mainly by
converting hydrogen into helium in their
Nearest Stars cores. The first category comprises stars
that have exhausted the hydrogen in their
The table lists information about the 20 cores and are burning hydrogen within a
nearest known stars. Only three stars, shell surrounding the core. The white
Alpha Centauri, Procyon, and Sirius, are dwarfs represent the final stage in the life
among the 20 brightest and the 20 nearest of a typical star, when most available
stars. Ironically, most of the relatively sources of energy have been exhausted
nearby stars are dimmer than the Sun and and the star has become relatively dim.
are invisible without the aid of a telescope. The large number of binary stars and
By contrast, some of the well-known bright even multiple systems is notable. These
stars outlining the constellations have star systems exhibit scales comparable in
parallaxes as small as the limiting value size to that of the solar system. Some, and
of 0.001" and are therefore well beyond perhaps many, of the nearby single stars
several hundred light-years distance from have invisible (or very dim) companions
the Sun. The most luminous stars can be detectable by their gravitational effects
Stars | 51

on the primary star; this orbital motion of have been found to have masses on the
the unseen member causes the visible order of 0.001 solar mass or less, which
star to “wobble” in its motion through is in the range of planetary rather than
space. Some of the invisible companions stellar dimensions. Current observations

The 20 nearest stars

visual magnitude* and distance in visual luminosity
name spectral type light- relative to the Sun
A*** B*** years **
A*** B***
11.09 M5.5 V 4.2 0.00005
Alpha Centauri
0.01 G2 V 1.34 K0 V 4.4 1.37 0.403
(A and B only)
Barnard’s star 9.53 M4 V 6 0.0004
Wolf 359 13.44 M6 7.8 0.00002
Lalande 21185 7.47 M2 V 8.3 0.00513
Sirius –1.43 A1 V 8.44 DA 8.6 20 0.00225
BL Ceti (A),
12.54 M5.5 V 12.99 M6 V 8.7 0.00005 0.00004
UV Ceti (B)
Ross 154 10.43 M3.5 9.7 0.00046
Ross 248 12.29 M5.5 V 10.3 0.00009
Epsilon Eridani 3.73 K2 V 10.5 0.26
Lacaille 9352 7.34 M1.5 V 10.7 0.00971
Ross 128 11.13 M4 V 10.9 0.00031
EZ Aquarii 13.33 M5 V 13.27 M6 V 11.3 0.00004 0.00004
Procyon 0.38 F5 IV-V 10.70 DZ 11.4 6.65 0.0005
61 Cygni 5.21 K5 V 6.03 K7 V 11.4 0.0778 0.0366
GJ 725 8.9 M3 V 9.69 M5 V 11.5 0.0027 0.0013
GX Andromedae 8.08 M1.5 V 11.06 M3.5 V 11.6 0.00575 0.00037
Epsilon Indi 4.69 K5 24.47 T1 11.8 0.135 0.000000018
DX Cancri 14.78 M6.5 V 11.8 0.00001
Tau Ceti 3.49 G8 V 11.9 0.412
Negative magnitudes are brightest, and one magnitude difference corresponds to a difference in
brightness of 2.5 times; e.g., a star of magnitude –1 is 10 times brighter than one of magnitude 1.5.
One light-year equals about 9.46 trillion km.
A and B are brighter and fainter components, respectively, of star.
52 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

suggest that they are genuine planets, Stellar Motions

though some are merely extremely dim
stars (sometimes called brown dwarfs). Accurate measurements of position
Nonetheless, a reasonable inference make it possible to determine the move-
that can be drawn from these data is that ment of a star across the line of sight
double stars and planetary systems are (i.e., perpendicular to the observer)—its
formed by similar evolutionary processes. proper motion. The amount of proper
motion, denoted by μ (in arc seconds
Stellar Positions per year), divided by the parallax of the
star and multiplied by a factor of 4.74
Even the basic measurement of where a equals the tangential velocity, VT , in
star is in the sky can yield much useful kilometres per second in the plane of the
information. Such observations can tell if celestial sphere.
a star is related to its neighbours and how The motion along the line of sight
it moves through the Galaxy. (i.e., toward the observer), called radial
velocity, is obtained directly from spectro­
Basic Measurements scopic observations. If λ is the wavelength
of a characteristic spectral line of some
Accurate observations of stellar positions atom or ion present in the star, and λL the
are essential to many problems of astron- wavelength of the same line measured in
omy. Positions of the brighter stars can the laboratory, then the difference Δλ, or
be measured very accurately in the equa- λ − λL, divided by λL equals the radial
torial system (the coordinates of which velocity, VR, divided by the velocity of
are called right ascension [α, or RA] and light, c—namely,
declination [δ, or DEC] and are given for
some epoch—for example, 1950.0 or, cur- Δλ/λL = VR/c.
rently, 2000.0). Fainter stars are measured
by using photographic plates or electronic Shifts of a spectral line toward the
imaging devices (e.g., a charge-coupled red end of the electromagnetic spectrum
device, or CCD) with respect to the (i.e., positive VR ) indicate recession, and
brighter stars, and finally the entire group those toward the blue end (negative VR )
is referred to the positions of known exter- indicate approach. If the parallax is
nal galaxies. These distant galaxies are known, measurements of μ and VR enable
far enough away to define an essentially a determination of the space motion of
fixed, or immovable, system, whereas the star. Normally, radial velocities are
positions of both the bright and faint stars corrected for Earth’s rotation and for its
are affected over relatively short periods motion around the Sun, so that they refer
of time by galactic rotation and by their to the line-of-sight motion of the star with
own motions through the Galaxy. respect to the Sun.
Stars | 53

Consider a pertinent example. The the brightest star in the sky (save the
proper motion of Alpha Centauri is about Sun), is −1.4. Canopus, the second bright-
3.5 arc seconds, which, at a distance of 4.4 est, has a magnitude of −0.7, while the
light-years, means that this star moves faintest star normally seen without the aid
0.00007 light-year in one year. It thus has of a telescope is of the sixth magnitude.
a projected velocity in the plane of the sky Stars as faint as the 30th magnitude have
of 22 km per second (14 miles per second). been measured with modern telescopes,
As for motion along the line of sight, Alpha meaning that these instruments can detect
Centauri’s spectral lines are slightly blue- stars about four billion times fainter than
shifted, implying a velocity of approach of can the human eye alone.
about 20 km per second. The true space The scale of magnitudes comprises a
motion, equal to (222 + 202)½ or about 30 geometric progression of brightness.
km per second (19 miles per second), sug- Magnitudes can be converted to light
gests that this star will make its closest ratios by letting ln and lm be the bright-
approach to the Sun (at three light-years’ nesses of stars of magnitudes n and m;
distance) some 280 centuries from now. the logarithm of the ratio of the two
brightnesses then equals 0.4 times the
Light from the stars difference between them—i.e.,

The light that stars emit does more than log(lm/ln) = 0.4(n − m).
beautify the night sky. It tells us much
about the stars themselves. All we know Magnitudes are actually defined in
about what the stars are made of, how terms of observed brightness, a quantity
massive they are, and the temperatures of that depends on the light-detecting
their surfaces all comes from starlight. device employed. Visual magnitudes
were originally measured with the eye,
Stellar Magnitudes which is most sensitive to yellow-green
light, while photographic magnitudes
Stellar brightnesses are usually expressed were obtained from images on old photo-
by means of their magnitudes, a usage graphic plates, which were most sensitive
inherited from classical times. A star of to blue light.
the first magnitude is about 2.5 times as Today, magnitudes are measured elec-
bright as one of the second magnitude, tronically, using detectors such as CCDs
which in turn is some 2.5 times as bright equipped with yellow-green or blue filters
as one of the third magnitude, and so on. to create conditions that roughly corre-
A star of the first magnitude is therefore spond to those under which the original
2.55 or 100 times as bright as one of the visual and photographic magnitudes were
sixth magnitude. The magnitude of Sirius, measured. Yellow-green magnitudes are
which appears to an observer on Earth as still often designated V magnitudes, but
54 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

blue magnitudes are now designated B. astronomers suspect that large numbers
The scheme has been extended to other of such faint stars exist, but most of these
magnitudes, such as ultraviolet (U ), red objects have so far eluded detection.
(R), and near-infrared (I ). Other systems
vary the details of this scheme. All mag- Stellar Colours
nitude systems must have a reference,
or zero, point. In practice, this is fixed Stars differ in colour. Most of the stars in
arbitrarily by agreed-upon magnitudes the constellation Orion visible to the
measured for a variety of standard stars. naked eye are blue-white, most notably
The actually measured brightnesses Rigel (Beta Orionis), but Betelgeuse
of stars give apparent magnitudes. These (Alpha Orionis) is a deep red. In the tele-
cannot be converted to intrinsic bright- scope, Albireo (Beta Cygni) is seen as two
nesses until the distances of the objects stars, one blue and the other orange. One
concerned are known. The absolute quantitative means of measuring stellar
magnitude of a star is defined as the mag- colours involves a comparison of the
nitude it would have if it were viewed at yellow (visual) magnitude of the star with
a standard distance of 10 parsecs (32.6 its magnitude measured through a blue
light-years). Since the apparent visual filter. Hot, blue stars appear brighter
magnitude of the Sun is −26.75, its abso- through the blue filter, while the opposite
lute magnitude corresponds to a is true for cooler, red stars.
diminution in brightness by a factor of In all magnitude scales, one magni-
(2,062,650)2 and is, using logarithms, tude step corresponds to a brightness
ratio of 2.512. The zero point is chosen so
−26.75 + 2.5 × log(2,062,650)2, that white stars with surface tempera-
or −26.75 + 31.57 = 4.82. tures of about 10,000 K have the same
visual and blue magnitudes. The conven-
This is the magnitude that the Sun tional colour index is defined as the blue
would have if it were at a distance of 10 magnitude, B, minus the visual magni-
parsecs—an object still visible to the tude, V; the colour index, B − V, of the Sun
naked eye, though not a very conspicu- is thus
ous one and certainly not the brightest in
the sky. Very luminous stars, such as +5.47 − 4.82 = 0.65.
Deneb, Rigel, and Betelgeuse, have abso-
lute magnitudes of −7 to −9, while an Magnitude Systems
extremely faint star, such as the com-
panion to the star with the catalog name Problems arise when only one colour
BD + 4°4048, has an absolute visual mag- index is observed. If, for instance, a star is
nitude of +19, which is about a million found to have, say, a B − V colour index of
times fainter than the Sun. Many 1.0 (i.e., a reddish colour), it is impossible
Stars | 55

without further information to decide surface temperature of 3,000 K has an

whether the star is red because it is cool energy maximum on a wavelength scale
or whether it is really a hot star whose at 10000 angstroms (Å) in the far-infrared,
colour has been reddened by the passage and most of its energy cannot therefore be
of light through interstellar dust. Astro­ measured as visible light. (One angstrom
nomers have overcome these difficulties equals 10−10 metre, or 0.1 nanometre.)
by measuring the magnitudes of the same Bright, cool stars can be observed at
stars through three or more filters, often infrared wavelengths, however, with spe-
U (ultraviolet), B, and V. cial instruments that measure the amount
Observations of stellar infrared of heat radiated by the star. Corrections for
light also have assumed considerable the heavy absorption of the infrared waves
importance. In addition, photometric by water and other molecules in Earth’s air
observations of individual stars from must be made unless the measurements
spacecraft and rockets have made possible are made from above the atmosphere.
the measurement of stellar colours over a The hotter stars pose more difficult
large range of wavelengths. These data problems, since Earth’s atmosphere extin-
are important for hot stars and for assess- guishes all radiation at wavelengths
ing the effects of interstellar attenuation. shorter than 2900 Å. A star whose surface
temperature is 20,000 K or higher radi-
Bolometric Magnitudes ates most of its energy in the inaccessible
ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic
The measured total of all radiation at all spectrum. Measurements made with
wavelengths from a star is called a bolo- detectors flown in rockets or spacecraft
metric magnitude. The corrections extend the observable wavelength region
required to reduce visual magnitudes to down to 1000 Å or lower, though most
bolometric magnitudes are large for very radiation of distant stars is extinguished
cool stars and for very hot ones, but they below 912 Å—a region in which absorption
are relatively small for stars such as the by neutral hydrogen atoms in intervening
Sun. A determination of the true total space becomes effective.
luminosity of a star affords a measure of To compare the true luminosities of
its actual energy output. When the energy two stars, the appropriate bolometric cor-
radiated by a star is observed from Earth’s rections must first be added to each of
surface, only that portion to which the their absolute magnitudes. The ratio of the
energy detector is sensitive and that can luminosities can then be calculated.
be transmitted through the atmosphere is
recorded. Most of the energy of stars like Stellar Spectra
the Sun is emitted in spectral regions that
can be observed from Earth’s surface. On A star’s spectrum contains information
the other hand, a cool dwarf star with a about its temperature, chemical
56 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

composition, and intrinsic luminosity. the second level of hydrogen, and thus
Spectrograms secured with a slit spectro- the hydrogen lines are dim. By contrast,
graph consist of a sequence of images of at very high temperatures—for instance,
the slit in the light of the star at successive that of the surface of a blue giant star—
wavelengths. Adequate spectral resolu- the hydrogen atoms are nearly all ionized
tion (or dispersion) might show the star and therefore cannot absorb or emit any
to be a member of a close binary system, line radiation. Consequently, only faint
in rapid rotation, or to have an extended dark hydrogen lines are observed. The
atmosphere. Quantitative determination characteristic features of ionized metals
of its chemical composition then becomes such as iron are often weak in such hotter
possible. Inspection of a high-resolution stars because the appropriate electron
spectrum of the star may reveal evidence transitions involve higher energy levels
of a strong magnetic field. that tend to be more sparsely populated
than the lower levels. Another factor is
Line Spectrum that the general “fogginess,” or opacity, of
the atmospheres of these hotter stars is
Spectral lines are produced by transitions greatly increased, resulting in fewer
of electrons within atoms or ions. As the atoms in the visible stellar layers capable
electrons move closer to or farther from of producing the observed lines.
the nucleus of an atom (or of an ion), The continuous (as distinct from the
energy in the form of light (or other radia- line) spectrum of the Sun is produced pri-
tion) is emitted or absorbed. The yellow marily by the photodissociation of
“D” lines of sodium or the “H” and “K” negatively charged hydrogen ions (H−)—
lines of ionized calcium (seen as dark i.e., atoms of hydrogen to which an extra
absorption lines) are produced by dis- electron is loosely attached. In the Sun’s
crete quantum jumps from the lowest atmosphere, when H− is subsequently
energy levels (ground states) of these destroyed by photodissociation, it can
atoms. The visible hydrogen lines (the absorb energy at any of a whole range of
so-called Balmer series), however, are wavelengths and thus produce a continu-
produced by electron transitions within ous range of absorption of radiation. The
atoms in the second energy level (or first main source of light absorption in the
excited state), which lies well above the hotter stars is the photoionization of
ground level in energy. Only at high tem- hydrogen atoms, both from ground level
peratures are sufficient numbers of atoms and from higher levels.
maintained in this state by collisions,
radiations, and so forth to permit an Spectral Analysis
appreciable number of absorptions to
occur. At the low surface temperatures of The physical processes behind the for-
a red dwarf star, few electrons populate mation of stellar spectra are well enough
Stars | 57

understood to permit determinations of Catalogue and the Bright Star Catalogue

temperatures, densities, and chemical list spectral types from the hottest to the
compositions of stellar atmospheres. The coolest stars. These types are designated,
star studied most extensively is, of course, in order of decreasing temperature, by the
the Sun, but many others also have been letters O, B, A, F, G, K, and M. This group
investigated in detail. is supplemented by R- and N-type stars
The general characteristics of the spec- (today often referred to as carbon, or
tra of stars depend more on temperature C-type, stars) and S-type stars. The R-, N-,
variations among the stars than on their and S-type stars differ from the others in
chemical differences. Spectral features also chemical composition; also, they are
depend on the density of the absorbing invariably giant or supergiant stars. With
atmospheric matter, and density in turn the discovery of brown dwarfs, objects
is related to a star’s surface gravity. Dwarf that form like stars but do not shine
stars, with great surface gravities, tend to through thermonuclear fusion, the system
have high atmospheric densities; giants of stellar classification has been expanded
and supergiants, with low surface gravities, to include spectral types L and T.
have relatively low densities. Hydrogen The spectral sequence O through M
absorption lines provide a case in point. represents stars of essentially the same
Normally, an undisturbed atom radiates chemical composition but of different
a very narrow line. If its energy levels are temperatures and atmospheric pressures.
perturbed by charged particles passing This simple interpretation, put forward
nearby, it radiates at a wavelength near its in the 1920s by the Indian astrophysicist
characteristic wavelength. In a hot gas, the Meghnad N. Saha, has provided the physi-
range of disturbance of the hydrogen lines cal basis for all subsequent interpretations
is very high, so that the spectral line radi- of stellar spectra. The spectral sequence
ated by the whole mass of gas is spread out is also a colour sequence: the O- and
considerably; the amount of blurring B-type stars are intrinsically the bluest
depends on the density of the gas in a and hottest; the M-, R-, N-, and S-type
known fashion. Dwarf stars such as Sirius stars are the reddest and coolest.
show broad hydrogen features with exten- In the case of cool stars of type M, the
sive “wings” where the line fades slowly spectra indicate the presence of familiar
out into the background, while supergiant metals, including iron, calcium, magne-
stars, with less-dense atmospheres, display sium, and also titanium oxide molecules
relatively narrow hydrogen lines. (TiO), particularly in the red and green
parts of the spectrum. In the somewhat
Classification of Spectral Types hotter K-type stars, the TiO features dis-
appear, and the spectrum exhibits a
Most stars are grouped into a small num- wealth of metallic lines. A few especially
ber of spectral types. The Henry Draper stable fragments of molecules such as
58 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

cyanogen (CN) and the hydroxyl radical stronger, attaining their maximum inten-
(OH) persist in these stars and even in sities in A-type stars, in which the surface
G-type stars such as the Sun. The spectra temperature is about 9,000 K. Thereafter,
of G-type stars are dominated by the these absorption lines gradually fade as
characteristic lines of metals, particularly the hydrogen becomes ionized.
those of iron, calcium, sodium, magne- The hot B-type stars, such as Epsilon
sium, and titanium. Orionis, are characterized by lines of
The behaviour of calcium illustrates helium and of singly ionized oxygen,
the phenomenon of thermal ionization. At nitrogen, and neon. In very hot O-type
low temperatures a calcium atom retains stars, lines of ionized helium appear.
all of its electrons and radiates a spectrum Other prominent features include lines of
characteristic of the neutral, or normal, doubly ionized nitrogen, oxygen, and car-
atom; at higher temperatures collisions bon and of trebly ionized silicon, all of
between atoms and electrons and the which require more energy to produce.
absorption of radiation both tend to detach In the more modern system of spectral
electrons and to produce singly ionized classification, called the MK system (after
calcium atoms. At the same time, these the American astronomers William W.
ions can recombine with electrons to pro- Morgan and Philip C. Keenan, who intro-
duce neutral calcium atoms. At high duced it), luminosity class is assigned to
temperatures or low electron pressures, or the star along with the Draper spectral type.
both, most of the atoms are ionized. At For example, the star Alpha Persei is classi-
low temperatures and high densities, the fied as F5 Ib, which means that it falls about
equilibrium favours the neutral state. The halfway between the beginning of type F
concentrations of ions and neutral atoms (i.e., F0) and of type G (i.e., G0). The Ib suf-
can be computed from the temperature, fix means that it is a moderately luminous
the density, and the ionization potential supergiant. The star Pi Cephei, classified as
(namely, the energy required to detach an G2 III, is a giant falling between G0 and K0
electron from the atom). but much closer to G0. The Sun, a dwarf
The absorption line of neutral cal- star of type G2, is classified as G2 V. A star
cium at 4227 Å is thus strong in cool of luminosity class II falls between giants
M-type dwarf stars, in which the pressure and supergiants; one of class IV is called a
is high and the temperature is low. In the subgiant.
hotter G-type stars, however, the lines of
ionized calcium at 3968 and 3933 Å (the Bulk Stellar Properties
“H” and “K” lines) become much stronger
than any other feature in the spectrum. When a star is considered as a whole, its
In stars of spectral type F, the lines of properties reveal much of interest. From
neutral atoms are weak relative to those a star’s temperature to how it interacts
of ionized atoms. The hydrogen lines are with a companion star, the consideration
Stars | 59

of bulk stellar properties has been and L = 4πR2σT4eff .

will continue to be a major part of astro-
nomical studies. This relation defines the star’s equivalent
blackbody, or effective, temperature.
Stellar Temperatures Since the total energy radiated by a
star cannot be directly observed (except
Temperatures of stars can be defined in a in the case of the Sun), the effective tem-
number of ways. From the character of the perature is a derived quantity rather than
spectrum and the various degrees of an observed one. Yet, theoretically, it is
ionization and excitation found from its the fundamental temperature. If the bolo-
analysis, an ionization or excitation tem- metric corrections are known, the effective
perature can be determined. temperature can be found for any star
A comparison of the V and B magni- whose absolute visual magnitude and
tudes yields a B − V colour index, which is radius are known. Effective temperatures
related to the colour temperature of the are closely related to spectral type and
star. The colour temperature is therefore range from about 40,000 K for hot O-type
a measure of the relative amounts of stars, through 5,800 K for stars like the
radiation in two more or less broad wave- Sun, to about 800 K for brown dwarfs.
length regions, while the ionization and
excitation temperatures pertain to the Stellar Masses
temperatures of strata wherein spectral
lines are formed. The mass of most stars lies within the
Provided that the angular size of a range of 0.3 to 3 solar masses. One of
star can be measured and that the total the most massive stars determined to
energy flux received at Earth (corrected date is the O3-type star HD 93250, a giant
for atmospheric extinction) is known, that has perhaps 120 solar masses. There
the so-called brightness temperature is a theoretical upper limit to the masses
can be found. of nuclear-burning stars (the Eddington
The effective temperature, Teff, of a limit), which limits stars to no more than
star is defined in terms of its total energy a few hundred solar masses. The physics
output and radius. Thus, since σT4eff is the of instability and fragmentation probably
rate of radiation per unit area for a per- prohibits the formation of stars much
fectly radiating sphere and if L is the total more than 100 times the mass of the Sun.
radiation (i.e., luminosity) of a star con- On the low mass side, most stars seem to
sidered to be a sphere of radius R, such have at least 0.1 solar mass. The theoreti-
a sphere (called a blackbody) would cal lower mass limit for an ordinary star
emit a total amount of energy equal to its is about 0.075 solar mass, for below this
surface area, 4πR2, multiplied by its energy value an object cannot attain a central
per unit area. In symbols, temperature high enough to enable it to
60 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

shine by nuclear energy. Instead, it may Visual Binaries

produce a much lower level of energy by
gravitational shrinkage. If its mass is not Visual binaries can be seen as double
much below the critical 0.075 solar mass stars with the telescope. True doubles, as
value, it will appear as a very cool, dim distinguished from apparent doubles
star known as a brown dwarf. Its evolu- caused by line-of-sight effects, move
tion is simply to continue cooling toward through space together and display a
eventual extinction. At still somewhat common space motion. Sometimes a com-
lower masses, the object would be a giant mon orbital motion can be measured as
planet. Jupiter, with a mass roughly 0.001 well. Provided that the distance to the
that of the Sun, is just such an object, binary is known, such systems permit a
emitting a very low level of energy (apart determination of stellar masses, m1 and
from reflected sunlight) that is derived m2, of the two members. The angular
from gravitational shrinkage. radius, a", of the orbit (more accurately,
Brown dwarfs were late to be discov- its semimajor axis) can be measured
ered, the first unambiguous identification directly, and, with the distance known,
having been made in 1995. It is estimated, the true dimensions of the semimajor
however, that hundreds must exist in the axis, a, can be found. If a is expressed in
solar neighbourhood. An extension of astronomical units, which is given by a
the spectral sequence for objects cooler (measured in seconds of arc) multiplied
than M-type stars has been constructed, by the distance in parsecs, and the period,
using L for warmer brown dwarfs and T P, also measured directly, is expressed in
for cooler ones. A major observational years, then the sum of the masses of the
difference between the two types is the two orbiting stars can be found from an
absence (in L-type dwarfs) or presence application of Kepler’s third law. (An
(in T-type dwarfs) of methane in their astronomical unit is the average distance
spectra. The presence of methane in the from Earth to the Sun, approximately
cooler brown dwarfs emphasizes their 149,597,870 km [92,955,808 miles].) In
similarity to giant planets. The class Y symbols,
has been proposed for objects even cooler
than those of class T. (m1 + m2) = a3/P2
Masses of stars can be found only
from binary systems and only if the scale in units of the Sun’s mass.
of the orbits of the stars around each For example, for the binary system 70
other is known. Binary stars are divided Ophiuchi, P is 87.8 years, and the distance
into three categories, depending on the is 5.0 parsecs; thus, a is 22.8 astronomical
mode of observation employed: visual units, and
binaries, spectroscopic binaries, and
eclipsing binaries. m1 + m2 = 1.56
Stars | 61

solar masses. From a measurement of the cannot be found for most spectroscopic
motions of the two members relative to binaries, since the angle between the
the background stars, the orbit of each orbit plane and the plane of the sky can-
star has been determined with respect to not be determined. If spectra from both
their common centre of gravity. The mass members are observed, mass ratios can
ratio, m2/(m1 + m2), is 0.42; the individual be found. If one spectrum alone is
masses for m1 and m2, respectively, are observed, only a quantity called the mass
then 0.90 and 0.66 solar mass. function can be derived, from which is
The star known as 61 Cygni was the calculated a lower limit to the stellar
first whose distance was measured (via masses. If a spectroscopic binary is also
parallax by the German astronomer observed to be an eclipsing system, the
Friedrich W. Bessel in the mid-19th cen- inclination of the orbit and often the val-
tury). Visually, 61 Cygni is a double star ues of the individual masses can be
separated by 83.2 astronomical units. Its ascertained.
members move around one another with
a period of 653 years. It was among the Eclipsing Binaries
first stellar systems thought to contain a
potential planet, although this has not An eclipsing binary consists of two close
been confirmed and is now considered stars moving in an orbit so placed in
unlikely. Nevertheless, since the 1990s a space in relation to Earth that the light of
variety of discovery techniques have con- one can at times be hidden behind the
firmed the existence of more than 300 other. Depending on the orientation of
planets orbiting other stars. the orbit and sizes of the stars, the eclipses
can be total or annular (in the latter, a
Spectroscopic Binaries ring of one star shows behind the other at
the maximum of the eclipse) or both
Spectroscopic binary stars are found from eclipses can be partial. The best known
observations of radial velocity. At least example of an eclipsing binary is Algol
the brighter member of such a binary can (Beta Persei), which has a period (interval
be seen to have a continuously changing between eclipses) of 2.9 days. The brighter
periodic velocity that alters the wave- (B8-type) star contributes about 92 per-
lengths of its spectral lines in a rhythmic cent of the light of the system, and the
way. The velocity curve repeats itself eclipsed star provides less than 8 percent.
exactly from one cycle to the next, and The system contains a third star that is
the motion can be interpreted as orbital not eclipsed. Some 20 eclipsing binaries
motion. In some cases, rhythmic changes are visible to the naked eye.
in the lines of both members can be The light curve for an eclipsing
measured. Unlike visual binaries, the binary displays magnitude measure-
semimajor axes or the individual masses ments for the system over a complete
62 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

light cycle. The light of the variable star temperature star is paired with a larger
is usually compared with that of a nearby object of low surface brightness and if
(comparison) star thought to be fixed in the distance between the stars is small, the
brightness. Often, a deep, or primary, part of the cool star facing the hotter one
minimum is produced when the compo- is substantially brightened by it. Just
nent having the higher surface brightness before (and just after) secondary eclipse,
is eclipsed. It represents the total eclipse this illuminated hemisphere is pointed
and is characterized by a flat bottom. A toward the observer, and the total light of
shallower secondary eclipse occurs when the system is at a maximum.
the brighter component passes in front of The properties of stars derived from
the other; it corresponds to an annular eclipsing binary systems are not neces-
eclipse (or transit). In a partial eclipse sarily applicable to isolated single stars.
neither star is ever completely hidden, Systems in which a smaller, hotter star is
and the light changes continuously dur- accompanied by a larger, cooler object
ing an eclipse. are easier to detect than are systems that
The shape of the light curve during contain, for example, two main-sequence
an eclipse gives the ratio of the radii of stars. In such an unequal system, at least
the two stars and also one radius in terms the cooler star has certainly been affected
of the size of the orbit, the ratio of lumi- by evolutionary changes and probably
nosities, and the inclination of the orbital so has the brighter one. The evolutionary
plane to the plane of the sky. development of two stars near one
If radial-velocity curves are also avail- another does not exactly parallel that of
able—i.e., if the binary is spectroscopic as two well-separated or isolated ones.
well as eclipsing—additional information Eclipsing binaries include combina-
can be obtained. When both velocity tions of a variety of stars ranging from
curves are observable, the size of the orbit white dwarfs to huge supergiants (e.g.,
as well as the sizes, masses, and densities VV Cephei), which would engulf Jupiter
of the stars can be calculated. Furthermore, and all the inner planets of the solar sys-
if the distance of the system is measur- tem if placed at the position of the Sun.
able, the brightness temperatures of the Some members of eclipsing binaries
individual stars can be estimated from are intrinsic variables, stars whose energy
their luminosities and radii. All of these output fluctuates with time. In many such
procedures have been carried out for the systems, large clouds of ionized gas swirl
faint binary Castor C (two red-dwarf com- between the stellar members. In others,
ponents of the six-member Castor such as Castor C, at least one of the faint
multiple star system) and for the bright M-type dwarf components might be a
B-type star Mu Scorpii. flare star, one in which the brightness can
Close stars may reflect each other’s unpredictably and suddenly increase to
light noticeably. If a small, high- many times its normal value.
Stars | 63

Binaries and Extrasolar and appear so close to it as to be unde-

Planetary Systems tectable from even the nearest star. If
candidate stars are treated as possible
Near the Sun, most stars are members of spectroscopic binaries, however, then one
binaries, and many of the nearest single may look for a periodic change in the
stars are suspected of having compan- star’s radial velocity caused by a planet
ions. Although some binary members are swinging around it. The effect is very
separated by hundreds of astronomical small—even Jupiter would cause a change
units and others are contact binaries in the apparent radial velocity of the Sun
(stars close enough for material to pass of only about 10 metres (33 feet) per sec-
between them), binary systems are most ond spread over Jupiter’s orbital period
frequently built on the same scale as that of about 12 years at best.
of the solar system—namely, on the order Current techniques using very large
of about 10 astronomical units. The divi- telescopes to study fairly bright stars can
sion in mass between two components of measure radial velocities with a precision
a binary seems to be nearly random. A of a few metres per second, provided that
mass ratio as small as about 1:20 could the star has very sharp spectral lines,
occur about 5 percent of the time, and such as is observed for Sun-like stars and
under these circumstances a planetary stars of types K and M. This means that at
system comparable to the solar system is present the radial-velocity method nor-
able to form. mally can detect only massive extrasolar
The formation of double and multiple planets. Planets like Earth, 300 times less
stars on the one hand and that of plane- massive, would cause too small a change
tary systems on the other seem to be in radial velocity to be detectable pres-
different facets of the same process. ently. Moreover, the closer the planet is to
Planets are probably produced as a natu- its parent star, the greater and quicker
ral by-product of star formation. Only a the velocity swing, so that detection of
small fraction of the original nebula giant planets close to a star is favoured
matter is likely to be retained in planets, over planets farther out.
since much of the mass and angular Even when a planet is detected, the
momentum is swept out of the system. usual spectroscopic binary problem of
Conceivably, as many as 100 million stars not knowing the angle between the orbit
could have bona fide planets in the Milky plane and that of the sky allows only a
Way Galaxy. minimum mass to be assigned to the
Because planets are much fainter planet. The first planet discovered with
than the stars they orbit, extrasolar plan- this technique was 51 Pegasi in 1995.
ets are extremely difficult to detect One exception to this last problem is
directly. Jupiter, for example, would be HD 209458, a seventh-magnitude G0 V
only one-billionth as bright as the Sun star about 150 light-years away with a
64 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The extrasolar planet Fomalhaut b in images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004
and 2006. The black spot at the centre of the image is a coronagraph used to block the light
from Fomalhaut, which is located at the white dot. The oval ring is Fomalhaut’s dust belt, and
the lines radiating from the centre of the image are scattered starlight. NASA; ESA; P. Kalas;
J. Graham, E. Chiang; E. Kite, University of California, Berkeley; M. Clampin, NASA Goddard
Space Flight Center; M. Fitzgerald, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; and K.
Stapelfeldt and J. Krist, NASA/JPL

planetary object orbiting it every 3.5 days. even more of a giant than Jupiter itself.
Soon after the companion was discovered What was unexpected is its proximity to
in 1999 by its effect on the star’s radial the parent star—more than 100 times
velocity, it also was found to be eclipsing closer than Jupiter is to the Sun, raising
the star, meaning that its orbit is oriented the question of how a giant gaseous
almost edge-on toward Earth. This fortu- planet that close can survive the star’s
nate circumstance allowed determination radiation. The fact that many other extra-
of the planet’s mass and radius—0.69 and solar planets have been found to have
1.42 times those of Jupiter, respectively. orbital periods measured in days rather
These numbers imply that the planet is than years, and thus to be very close to
Stars | 65

their parent stars, suggests that the HD as are the Sun and its two largest planets,
209458 case is not unusual. There are Jupiter and Saturn. Some of these planets
also some confirmed cases of planets seem to be distended in size as a result of
around supernova remnants called pul- heating by their stars. The lowest mass
sars, although whether the planets transiting planets contain larger fractions
preceded the supernova explosions that of heavier elements, as do the smaller
produced the pulsars or were acquired planets within the solar system.
afterward remains to be determined. The majority of extrasolar planets
The first extrasolar planets were dis- with orbital periods longer than two
covered in 1992. More than 300 extrasolar weeks have quite eccentric (elongated)
planets were known by the early years of orbits. Within the solar system, the plan-
the 21st century, with more such discover- ets, especially the larger ones, travel on
ies being added regularly. Some of those nearly circular paths about the Sun.
studied have minimum masses of 40 or Stars that contain a larger fraction of
even 60 Jupiters, which means they are heavy elements (i.e., any element aside
likely brown dwarfs. from hydrogen and helium) are more
Between 5 and 10 percent of stars sur- likely to possess detectable planets. More
veyed have planets at least 100 times as massive stars are more likely to host plan-
massive as Earth with orbital periods of a ets more massive than Saturn, but this
few Earth years or less. Almost 1 percent correlation may not exist for smaller plan-
of stars have such giant planets in very ets. Many extrasolar planets orbit stars
close orbits, with orbital periods of less that are members of binary star systems,
than one week. In contrast, Jupiter, which and it is common for stars with one
has the shortest orbital period of any detectable planet to have others. The
large planet (i.e., any planet more mas- planets detected so far around stars other
sive than Earth) in the solar system, takes than the Sun have masses from nearly
nearly 12 years to travel around the Sun. twice to thousands of times that of Earth.
Even the closest planet to the Sun, tiny Most, if not all, appear to be too massive
Mercury, requires 88 days to complete an to support life, but this too is the result of
orbit. Models of planetary formation sug- detection biases and does not indicate
gest that giant extrasolar planets detected that planets like Earth are uncommon.
very near their stars were formed at Research in the field of extrasolar
greater distances and migrated inward as planets is advancing rapidly, as new tech-
a result of gravitational interactions with nologies enable the detection of smaller
remnants of the circumstellar disks from and more distant planets as well as the
which they accumulated. characterization of previously detected
The most massive planets that transit planets. Almost all the extrasolar planetary
their stars are made primarily of the two systems known appear very different from
lightest elements, hydrogen and helium, the solar system, but planets like those
66 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The planetary system of HR 8799. Christian Marois/Bruce Macintosh/National Research

Council Canada(NRC)/Keck Observatory

within the solar system would be very dif- have detectable planets, it is still not
ficult to find around other stars with known whether the solar system is nor-
current technology. Thus, as more than mal or unusual. The U.S. National
90 percent of those stars surveyed do not Aeronautics and Space Administration’s
Stars | 67

Kepler mission was launched in 2009 and other disturbances that change the
and—using transit photometry from space, details of their spectra.
optimized to achieve unprecedented A more recent method, called speckle
sensitivity for small planets with orbital interferometry, has been developed to
periods of up to two years—aims to dis- reproduce the true disks of red super-
cover whether planets analogous to Earth giant stars and to resolve spectroscopic
are common or rare. binaries such as Capella. The speckle
In addition to the growing evidence phenomenon is a rapidly changing inter-
for existence of extrasolar planets, space- ference-diffraction effect seen in a highly
based observatories designed to detect magnified diffraction image of a star
infrared radiation have found more than observed with a large telescope.
100 young nearby stars (including Vega, If the absolute magnitude of a star
Fomalhaut and Beta Pictoris) to have and its temperature are known, its size
disks of warm matter orbiting them. This can be computed. The temperature deter-
matter is composed of myriad particles mines the rate at which energy is emitted
mostly about the size of sand grains and by each unit of area, and the total lumi-
might be taking part in the first stage of nosity gives the total power output. Thus,
planetary formation. the surface area of the star and, from it,
the radius of the object can be estimated.
Stellar Radii This is the only way available for esti-
mating the dimensions of white dwarf
Angular sizes of bright red giant and stars. The chief uncertainty lies in choos-
supergiant stars were first measured ing the temperature that represents the
directly during the 1920s, using the rate of energy emission.
principle of interference of light. Only
bright stars with large angular size can Average Stellar Values
be measured by this method. Provided
the distance to the star is known, the Main-sequence stars range from very
physical radius can be determined. luminous objects to faint M-type dwarf
Eclipsing binaries also provide exten- stars, and they vary considerably in their
sive data on stellar dimensions. The surface temperatures, their bolometric
timing of eclipses provides the angular (total) luminosities, and their radii.
size of any occulting object, and so ana- Moreover, for stars of a given mass, a fair
lyzing the light curves of eclipsing spread in radius, luminosity, surface
binaries can be a useful means of deter- temperature, and spectral type may exist.
mining the dimensions of either dwarf or This spread is produced by stellar evolu-
giant stars. Members of close binary tionary effects and tends to broaden the
systems, however, are sometimes subject main sequence. Masses are obtained
to evolutionary effects, mass exchange, from visual and eclipsing binary systems
68 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

observed spectroscopically. Radii are independently discovered the relations

found from eclipsing binary systems, from shown in it.
direct measurements in a few favourable As is seen in the diagram, most of the
cases, by calculations, and from absolute congregated stars are dwarfs lying closely
visual magnitudes and temperatures. around a diagonal line called the main
Average values for radius, bolometric sequence. These stars range from hot, O-
luminosity, and mass are meaningful only and B-type, blue objects at least 10,000
for dwarf stars. Giant and subgiant stars times brighter than the Sun down through
all show large ranges in radius for a given white A-type stars such as Sirius to
mass. Conversely, giant stars of very orange K-type stars such as Epsilon
nearly the same radius, surface tempera- Eridani and finally to M-type red dwarfs
ture, and luminosity can have appreciably thousands of times fainter than the Sun.
different masses. The sequence is continuous; the lumi-
nosities fall off smoothly with decreasing
Stellar Statistics surface temperature; the masses and radii
decrease but at a much slower rate; and
Some of the most important generaliza- the stellar densities gradually increase.
tions concerning the nature and evolution The second group of stars to be recog-
of stars can be derived from correlations nized was a group of giants—such objects
between observable properties and cer- as Capella, Arcturus, and Aldebaran—
tain statistical results. One of the most which are yellow, orange, or red stars
important of these correlations concerns about 100 times as bright as the Sun and
temperature and luminosity—or, equiva- have radii on the order of 10–30 million
lently, colour and magnitude. km (about 6–20 million miles, or 15–40
times as large as the Sun). The giants lie
Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram above the main sequence in the upper
right portion of the diagram. The cate-
When the absolute magnitudes of stars gory of supergiants includes stars of all
(or their intrinsic luminosities on a loga- spectral types; these stars show a large
rithmic scale) are plotted in a diagram spread in intrinsic brightness, and some
against temperature or, equivalently, even approach absolute magnitudes of
against the spectral types, the stars do −7 or −8. A few red supergiants, such as
not fall at random on the diagram but the variable star VV Cephei, exceed in
tend to congregate in certain restricted size the orbit of Jupiter or even that of
domains. Such a plot is usually called a Saturn, although most of them are smaller.
Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, named for Supergiants are short-lived and rare
the early 20th-century astronomers Ejnar objects, but they can be seen at great
Hertzsprung of Denmark and Henry distances because of their tremendous
Norris Russell of the United States, who luminosity.
Stars | 69

Schematic spectrum–luminosity correlation (Hertzsprung–Russell diagram) of spiral-arm

stars in the neighbourhood of the Sun. From Astrophysical Journal, reproduced by permission
of the American Astronomical Society

Subgiants are stars that are redder The white dwarf domain lies about 10
and larger than main-sequence stars of magnitudes below the main sequence.
the same luminosity. Many of the best These stars are in the last stages of their
known examples are found in close binary evolution.
systems where conditions favour their The spectrum-luminosity diagram has
detection. numerous gaps. Few stars exist above the
70 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

white dwarfs and to the left of the main difficulty. As a consequence, their colours
sequence. The giants are separated from rather than their spectra must be mea-
the main sequence by a gap named for sured. Since the colours are closely
Hertzsprung, who in 1911 became the first related to surface temperature and there-
to recognize the difference between fore to spectral types, equivalent spectral
main-sequence and giant stars. The types may be used; but it is stellar colours,
actual concentration of stars differs not spectral types, that are observed in
considerably in different parts of the this instance.
diagram. Highly luminous stars are rare, The differences between the two
whereas those of low luminosity are very Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams are strik-
numerous. ing. In the second figure, there are no
The spectrum-luminosity diagram supergiants, and, instead of a domain at
applies to the stars in the galactic spiral an absolute magnitude of about 0, the
arm in the neighbourhood of the Sun and giant stars form a branch that starts high
represents what would be obtained if a and to the right at about −3.5 for very red
composite Hertzsprung-Russell diagram stars and flows in a continuous sequence
was constructed combining data for a until it reaches an absolute magnitude of
large number of the star groups called about 0. At that point the giant branch
open (or galactic) star clusters, as, for splits—a main band of stars, all about the
example, the double cluster h and χ Persei, same colour, proceeds downward (i.e., to
the Pleiades, the Coma cluster, and the fainter stars) to a magnitude of about +3
Hyades. It includes very young stars, a and then connects to the main sequence
few million years old, as well as ancient at about +4 by way of a narrow band. The
stars, perhaps as old as 10 billion years. main sequence of Population II stars
By contrast, the second diagram extends downward to fainter, redder stars
exhibits the type of temperature-lumi- in much the same way as in the spiral-
nosity (or colour-magnitude) relation arm Population I stars. The main sequence
characteristic of stars in globular clus- ends at about spectral type G, however,
ters, in the central bulge of the Galaxy, and does not extend up through the A,
and in elliptical external galaxies— B, and O spectral types, though occasion-
namely, of the so-called stellar Population ally a few such stars are found in the
II. (In addition to these oldest objects, region normally occupied by the main
Population II includes other very old sequence.
stars that occur between the spiral arms The other band of stars formed from
of the Galaxy and at some distance above the split of the giant branch is the “horizon-
and below the galactic plane.) Because tal branch,” which falls near magnitude
these systems are very remote from the +0.6 and fills the aforementioned
observer, the stars are faint, and their Hertzsprung gap, extending to increas-
spectra can be observed only with ingly blue stars beyond the RR Lyrae
Stars | 71

stars, which are indicated by the cross- being their ages. The young cluster h
hatched area in the diagram. Among and χ Persei, which is a few million years
these blue hot stars are found novae and old, contains stars ranging widely in
the nuclei of planetary nebulae, the latter luminosity. Some stars have already
so called because their photographic evolved into the supergiant stage (in
image resembles that of a distant planet. such a diagram the top of the main
Not all globular clusters show identical sequence is bent over). The stars of lumi-
colour-magnitude diagrams, which may nosity 10,000 times greater than that of
be due to differences in the cluster ages the Sun have already largely depleted the
or other factors. hydrogen in their cores and are leaving
the main sequence.
Estimates of Stellar Ages The brightest stars of the Pleiades
cluster, aged about 100 million years,
The shapes of the colour-magnitude dia- have begun to leave the main sequence
grams permit estimates of globular-cluster and are approaching the critical phase
ages. Stars more massive than about 1.3 when they will have exhausted all the
solar masses have evolved away from the hydrogen in their cores. There are no
main sequence at a point just above giants in the Pleiades. Presumably, the
the position occupied by the Sun. The cluster contained no stars as massive as
time required for such a star to exhaust some of those found in h and χ Persei.
the hydrogen in its core is about 5–6 The cluster known as Praesepe, or the
billion years, and the cluster must be at Beehive, at an age of 790 million years, is
least as old. More ancient clusters have older than the Pleiades. All stars much
been identified. In the Galaxy, globular more luminous than the first magnitude
clusters are all very ancient objects, hav- have begun to leave the main sequence;
ing ages within a few billion years of there are some giants. The Hyades, about
the average of 14 billion years. In the 620 million years old, displays a similar
Magellanic Clouds, however, clusters colour-magnitude array. These clusters
exist that resemble globular ones, but contain a number of white dwarfs, indi-
they contain numerous blue stars and cating that the initially most luminous
therefore must be relatively young. stars have already run the gamut of evo-
Open clusters in the spiral arms of lution. In a very old cluster such as M67,
the Galaxy—extreme Population I—tell a which is 4.5 billion years old, all of the bright
somewhat different story. A colour- main-sequence stars have disappeared.
magnitude diagram can be plotted for a The colour-magnitude diagrams for
number of different open clusters—for globular and open clusters differ quanti-
example, the double cluster h and χ Persei, tatively because the latter show a wider
the Pleiades, Praesepe, and M67—with the range of ages and differ in chemical com-
main feature distinguishing the clusters position. Most globular clusters have
72 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

smaller metal-to-hydrogen ratios than do magnitude +0.6, corresponding to the

open clusters or the Sun. The gaps horizontal branch for Population II, and
between the red giants and blue main- no stars as bright as absolute magnitude
sequence stars of the open clusters −5. The luminosity function for pure
(Population I) often contain unstable Population I is evaluated best from open
stars such as variables. The Cepheid vari- star clusters, the stars in such a cluster
able stars, for instance, fall in these gaps. being at about the same distance. The
The giant stars of the Praesepe clus- neighbourhood of the Sun includes
ter are comparable to the brightest stars examples of both Populations I and II.
in M67. The M67 giants have evolved
from the main sequence near an absolute Mass-Luminosity Correlations
magnitude of +3.5, whereas the Praesepe
giants must have masses about twice as A plot of mass against bolometric lumi-
great as those of the M67 giants. Giant nosity for visual binaries for which good
stars of the same luminosity may there- parallaxes and masses are available shows
fore have appreciably different masses. that for stars with masses comparable to
that of the Sun the luminosity, L, varies as
Numbers of Stars Versus a power, 3 + β, of the mass M. This relation
Luminosity can be expressed as

Of great statistical interest is the relation- L = (M)3+β.

ship between the luminosities of the stars
and their frequency of occurrence. The The power differs for substantially fainter
naked-eye stars are nearly all intrinsically or much brighter stars.
brighter than the Sun, but the opposite is This mass-luminosity correlation
true for the known stars within 20 light- applies only to unevolved main-sequence
years of the Sun. The bright stars are easily stars. It fails for giants and supergiants
seen at great distances; the faint ones can and for the subgiant (dimmer) compo-
be detected only if they are close. Only if nents of eclipsing binaries, all of which
stars of magnitude +11 were a billion times have changed considerably during their
more abundant than stars of magnitude −4 lifetimes. It does not apply to any stars in
could they be observed to some fixed limit a globular cluster not on the main
of apparent brightness. sequence, or to white dwarfs that are
The luminosity function depends on abnormally faint for their masses.
population type. The luminosity function The mass-luminosity correlation, pre-
for pure Population II differs substan- dicted theoretically in the early 20th
tially from that for pure Population I. century by the English astronomer Arthur
There is a small peak near absolute Eddington, is a general relationship that
Stars | 73

holds for all stars having essentially the absolute magnitudes, provided the inter-
same internal density and temperature stellar absorption is also known.
distributions—i.e., for what are termed the
same stellar models. Classification

Variable Stars Variables are often classified as behaving

like a prototype star, and the entire class
Many stars are variable. Some are geo- is then named for this star—e.g., RR Lyrae
metric variables, as in the eclipsing stars are those whose variability follows
binaries considered earlier. Others are the pattern of the star RR Lyrae. The most
intrinsically variable—i.e., their total important classes of intrinsically variable
energy output fluctuates with time. Such stars are
intrinsic variable stars are dealt with in
this section. (1) Pulsating variables—stars whose
A fair number of stars are intrinsi- variations in light and colour are
cally variable. Some objects of this type thought to arise primarily from
were found by accident, but many were stellar pulsations. These include
detected as a result of carefully planned Beta Canis Majoris stars, RR
searches. Variable stars are important in Lyrae stars, and Delta Scuti stars,
astronomy for several reasons. They usu- all with short regular periods of
ally appear to be stars at critical or less than a day; Cepheids, with
short-lived phases of their evolution; periods between 1 and 100 days;
detailed studies of their light and spec- and long-period variables, semi-
tral characteristics, spatial distribution, regular variables, and irregular red
and association with other types of stars variables, usually with unstable
may provide valuable clues to the life his- periods of hundreds of days.
tories of various classes of stars. Certain (2) Explosive, or catastrophic, vari-
kinds of variable stars, such as Cepheids ables—stars in which the variations
(periodic variables) and novae and super- are produced by the wrenching
novae (explosive variables), are extremely away of part of the star, usually
important in that they make it possible to the outer layers, in some explo-
establish the distances of remote stellar sive process. They include SS
systems beyond the Galaxy. If the intrin- Cygni or U Geminorum stars,
sic luminosity of a recognizable variable novae, and supernovae (the last
is known and this kind of variable star of which are usually regarded as
can be found in a distant stellar system, representing an enormous explo-
the distance of the latter can be estimated sion involving most of the matter
from a measurement of apparent and in a star).
74 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

(3) Miscellaneous and special types Milky Way, in globular clusters. They are
of variables—R Coronae Borealis bluer than classic Population I Cepheids
stars, T Tauri stars, flare stars, pul- having the same period, and their light
sars (neutron stars), spectrum and curves have different shapes. Studies of
magnetic variables, X-ray variable the light and velocity curves indicate that
stars, and radio variable stars. shells of gas are ejected from the stars as
discontinuous layers that later fall back
Pulsating Stars toward the surface. These stars exhibit a
relation between period and luminosity
An impressive body of evidence indicates different from that for Population I
that stellar pulsations can account for Cepheids, and thus the distance of a
the variability of Cepheids, long-period Cepheid in a remote stellar system can
variables, semiregular variables, Beta be determined only if its population type
Canis Majoris stars, and even the irregu- is known.
lar red variables. Of this group, the Closely associated with Population II
Cepheid variables have been studied in Cepheids are the cluster-type, or RR
greatest detail, both theoretically and obser- Lyrae, variables. Many of these stars are
vationally. These stars are regular in their found in clusters, but some, such as the
behaviour; some repeat their light curves prototype RR Lyrae, occur far from any
with great faithfulness from one cycle to cluster or the central galactic bulge. Their
the next over periods of many years. periods are less than a day, and there is
Much confusion existed in the study no correlation between period and lumi-
of Cepheids until it was recognized that nosity. Their absolute magnitudes are
different types of Cepheids are associ- about 0.6 but somewhat dependent on
ated with different groups, or population metal abundance. They are thus about 50
types, of stars. Cepheids belonging to the times as bright as the Sun and so are use-
spiral-arm Population I are characterized ful for determining the distance of star
by regularity in their behaviour. They clusters and some of the nearer external
show continuous velocity curves indica- galaxies, their short periods permitting
tive of regular pulsation. They exhibit a them to be detected readily.
relation between period and luminosity Long-period variable stars also prob-
in the sense that the longer the period of ably owe their variations to pulsations.
the star, the greater is its intrinsic bright- Here the situation is complicated by the
ness. This period-luminosity relationship vast extent of their atmospheres, so that
has been used to establish the distances radiation originating at very different
of remote stellar systems. depths in the star is observed at the same
Cepheids with different properties time. At certain phases of the variations,
are found in Population II, away from the bright hydrogen lines are observed,
Stars | 75

overlaid with titanium oxide absorption. with Population II, and those of periods
The explanation is an outward-moving of about a year belong to Population I.
layer of hot, recombining gas, whose radi- Red semiregular variables such as
ation is absorbed by strata of cool gases. the RV Tauri stars show complex light
These stars are all cool red giants and and spectral changes. They do not repeat
supergiants of spectral types M (normal themselves from one cycle to the next;
composition), R and N (carbon-rich), or S their behaviour suggests a simultaneous
(heavy-metal-rich). The range in visual operation of two or more modes of oscil-
brightness during a pulsation can be 100- lation. Betelgeuse is an example of an
fold, but the range in total energy output irregular red variable. In these stars the
is much less, because at very low stellar free period of oscillation does not coin-
temperatures (1,500–3,000 K) most of the cide with the periodicity of the driving
energy is radiated in the infrared as heat mechanism.
rather than as light. Finally, among the various types
Unlike the light curves of classic of pulsating variable stars, the Beta
Cepheids, the light curves of these red Canis Majoris variables are high-
variables show considerable variations temperature stars (spectral type B) that
from one cycle to another. The visual often show complicated variations in
magnitude of the variable star Mira Ceti spectral-line shapes and intensities,
(Omicron Ceti) is normally about 9–9.5 at velocity curves, and light. In many cases,
minimum light, but at maximum it may they have two periods of variation so
lie between 5 and 2. Time intervals similar in duration that complex inter-
between maxima often vary considerably. ference or beat phenomena are observed,
In such cool objects, a very small change both in radial velocities and in the shapes
in temperature can produce a huge of spectral lines.
change in the output of visible radiation. A large body of evidence suggests
At the low temperatures of the red vari- that all members of this first class of
ables, compounds and probably solid variable stars owe their variability to pul-
particles are formed copiously, so that the sation. The pulsation theory was first
visible light may be profoundly affected proposed as a possible explanation as
by a slight change in physical conditions. early as 1879, was applied to Cepheids in
Random fluctuations from cycle to cycle, 1914, and was further developed by
which would produce negligible effects Arthur Eddington in 1917–18. Eddington
in a hotter star, produce marked light found that if stars have roughly the same
changes in a long-period variable. kind of internal structure, then the period
Long-period variables appear to fall multiplied by the square root of the den-
into two groups; those with periods of sity equals a constant that depends on
roughly 200 days tend to be associated the internal structure.
76 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The Eddington theory, though a good have been precisely predicted by the
approximation, encountered some severe theory. Stellar pulsation, like other rhyth-
difficulties that have been met through mic actions, may give rise to harmonic
modifications. If the entire star pulsated phenomena wherein beats reinforce or
in synchronism, it should be brightest interfere with one another. Beat and inter-
when compressed and smaller while ference phenomena then complicate the
faintest when expanded and at its largest. light and velocity changes. The RR Lyrae
The radial velocity should be zero at both stars supply some of the best examples,
maximum and minimum light. Observ­ but semiregular variables such as the RV
ations contradict these predictions. When Tauri stars or most Delta Scuti stars evi-
the star pulsates, all parts of the main dently vibrate simultaneously with two
body move in synchronism, but the outer or more periods.
observable strata fall out of step or lag
behind the pulsation of the inner Explosive Variables
regions. Pulsations involve only the outer
part of a star; the core, where energy is The evolution of a member of a close
generated by thermonuclear reactions, double-star system can be markedly
is unaffected. affected by the presence of its compan-
Many years ago, careful measure- ion. As the stars age, the more massive
ments of the average magnitudes and one swells up more quickly as it moves
colours of RR Lyrae stars in the globular away from the main sequence. It becomes
cluster M3 showed that all these stars fell so large that its outer envelope falls under
within a narrow range of luminosity and the gravitational influence of the smaller
colour (or surface temperature) or, equiv- star. Matter is continuously fed from the
alently, luminosity and radius. Also, every more rapidly evolving star to the less
star falling in this narrow range of bright- massive one, which still remains on the
ness and size was an RR Lyrae variable. main sequence. U Cephei is a classic
Subsequent work has indicated that simi- example of such a system for which spec-
lar considerations apply to most classic troscopic evidence shows streams of gas
Cepheids. Variability is thus a character- flowing from the more highly evolved
istic of any star whose evolution carries it star to the hotter companion, which is
to a certain size and luminosity, although now the more massive of the two.
the amplitude of the variability can vary Eventually, the latter will also leave the
dramatically. main sequence and become a giant star,
In the pulsation theory as now devel- only to lose its outer envelope to the
oped, the light and velocity changes of companion, which by that time may have
Cepheids can be interpreted not only reached the white dwarf stage.
qualitatively but also quantitatively. The Novae appear to be binary stars that
light curves of Cepheids, for example, have evolved from contact binaries of the
Stars | 77

W Ursae Majoris type, which are pairs of with a surface temperature near 7,000 K,
stars apparently similar to the Sun in size the nova brightens rapidly. Then, near
but revolving around one another while maximum light, the shell becomes trans-
almost touching. One member may have parent, and its total brightness plummets
reached the white dwarf stage. Matter fed rapidly, causing the nova to dim.
to it from its distended companion The mass of the shell is thought to be
appears to produce instabilities that rather small, about 10–100 times the mass
result in violent explosions or nova out- of Earth. Only the outer layers of the star
bursts. The time interval between seem to be affected; the main mass settles
outbursts can range from a few score down after the outburst into a state much
years to hundreds of thousands of years. as before until a new outburst occurs. The
In ordinary novae the explosion existence of repeating novae, such as the
seems to involve only the outer layers, as star T Coronae Borealis, suggests that
the star later returns to its former bright- perhaps all novae repeat at intervals rang-
ness; in supernovae the explosion is ing up to thousands or perhaps millions
catastrophic. Normally, novae are small of years; and probably, the larger the
blue stars much fainter than the Sun, explosion, the longer the interval. There
though very much hotter. When an out- is strong evidence that novae are compo-
burst occurs, the star can brighten very nents of close double stars and, in
rapidly, by 10 magnitudes or more in a particular, that they have evolved from
few hours. Thereafter it fades; the rate of the most common kind of eclipsing bina-
fading is connected with the brightness ries, those of the W Ursae Majoris type.
of the nova. The brightest novae, which Stars of the SS Cygni type, also known
reach absolute magnitudes of about −10, as dwarf novae, undergo novalike out-
fade most rapidly, whereas a typical slow bursts but of a much smaller amplitude.
nova, which reaches an absolute magni- The intervals between outbursts are a few
tude of −5, can take 10 or 20 times as long months to a year. Such variables are close
to decline in brightness. This property, binaries. The development of this partic-
when calibrated as the absolute magni- ular type may be possible only in close
tude at maximum brightness versus the binary systems.
time taken to decline by two magnitudes, There are two major types of super-
allows novae to be used as distance indi- novae, designated type I (or SNe I) and
cators for nearby galaxies. The changes type II (or SNe II). They can be distin-
in light are accompanied by pronounced guished by the fact that type II have
spectroscopic changes that can be inter- hydrogen features in their spectra, while
preted as arising from alterations in an type I do not. Type II supernovae arise
ejected shell that dissipates slowly in from the collapse of a single star more
space. In its earliest phases, the expand- massive than about eight solar masses,
ing shell is opaque. As its area grows, resulting in either a neutron star or black
78 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

hole. Type I supernovae, on the other Probably all variable stars represent
hand, are believed to originate in a binary more or less ephemeral phases in the
system containing a white dwarf, rather evolution of a star. Aside from cata-
like the case of ordinary novae. Unlike the strophic events of the kind that produce a
latter, however, in which only the outer supernova, some phases of stellar vari-
layers of the white dwarf seem to be ability might be of such brief duration as
affected, in a type I supernova the white to permit recognizable changes during
dwarf is probably completely destroyed, an interval of 50–100 years. Other stages
although the details are not yet fully may require many thousands of years. For
understood. Certainly a supernova’s example, the period of Delta Cephei, the
energy output is enormously greater than prototype star of the Cepheid variables,
that of an ordinary nova. has barely changed by a detectable
Type I supernovae can be further amount since its variability was discov-
divided into Ia and Ib, the distinguishing ered in 1784.
feature being that the spectra of Ia show a
strong silicon line, whereas the spectra of Peculiar Variables
Ib show a weak one. Empirical evidence
indicates that in a type Ia supernova the R Coronae Borealis variables are giant
absolute magnitude at maximum light stars of about the Sun’s temperature
can be determined by a combination of whose atmospheres are characterized by
data derived from the rate of dimming excessive quantities of carbon and very
after maximum, the shape of the light little hydrogen. The brightness of such a
curve, and certain colour measurements. star remains constant until the star sud-
A comparison of the absolute and appar- denly dims by several magnitudes and
ent magnitudes of maximum light, in then slowly recovers its original bright-
turn, allows the distance of the supernova ness. (The star’s colour remains the same
to be found. This is a matter of great use- during the changes in brightness.) The
fulness because type Ia supernovae at dimmings occur in a random fashion
maximum light are the most luminous and seem to be due to the huge concen-
“standard candles” available for deter- trations of carbon. At times the carbon
mining distances to external galaxies vapour literally condenses into soot, and
and thus can be observed in more dis- the star is hidden until the smog blan-
tant galaxies more than any other kind ket is evaporated. Similar veiling may
of standard candle. In 1999, application of sometimes occur in other types of low-
this technique led to the totally unexpected temperature stars, particularly in
discovery that the expansion of the uni- long-period variables.
verse appears to be accelerating rather Flare stars are cool dwarfs (spectral
than slowing down due to the presence type M) that display flares apparently
of dark energy. very much like, but much more intense
Stars | 79

than, those of the Sun. In fact, the flares radio stars also have been recorded on
are sometimes so bright that they over- occasion. These probably include flare
whelm the normal light of the star. Solar stars, possibly red supergiants such as
flares are associated with copious emis- Betelgeuse, the high-temperature dwarf
sion of radio waves, and simultaneous companion to the red supergiant Antares,
optical and radio-wave events appear to and the shells ejected from Nova Serpentis
have been found in the stars UV Ceti, YZ 1970 and Nova Delphini. The radio emis-
Canis Minoris, and V371 Orionis. sion from the latter objects is consistent
Spectrum and magnetic variables, with that expected from an expanding
mostly of spectral type A, show only small shell of ionized gas that fades away as the
amplitudes of light variation but often gas becomes attenuated. The central star
pronounced spectroscopic changes. of the Crab Nebula has been detected as
Their spectra typically show strong lines a radio (and optical) pulsar.
of metals such as manganese, titanium, Measurements from rockets, balloons,
iron, chromium, and the lanthanides (also and spacecraft have revealed distinct
called rare earths), which vary periodi- X-ray sources outside the solar system.
cally in intensity. These stars have strong The strongest galactic source, Scorpius
magnetic fields, typically from a few hun- X-1, appears to be associated with a hot
dred to a few thousand gauss; one star, variable star resembling an old nova. In
HD 215441, has a field on the order of all likelihood this is a binary star system
30,000 gauss. Not all magnetic stars are containing a low-mass normal star and a
known to be variable in light; these nonluminous companion.
objects also seem to have variable mag- A number of globular clusters are
netic fields. The best interpretation is sources of cosmic X-rays. Some of this
that these stars are rotating about an X-ray emission appears as intense fluc-
inclined axis. As with Earth, the magnetic tuations of radiation lasting only a few
and rotation axes do not coincide. seconds but changing in strength by as
Different ions are concentrated in differ- much as 25 times. These X-ray sources
ent areas (e.g., chromium in one area and have become known as bursters, and sev-
the lanthanides in another). eral such objects have been discovered
The Sun is an emitter of radio waves, outside of globular clusters as well. Some
but with present techniques its radio bursters vary on a regular basis, while
emission could only just be detected— others seem to turn on and off randomly.
even in its most active phases—at the The most popular interpretation holds
distance of the nearest star, about four that bursters are the result of binary sys-
light-years away. Most discrete radio- tems in which one of the objects—a
frequency sources have turned out to be compact neutron star or black hole—pulls
objects such as old supernovae, radio gal- matter from the companion, a normal
axies, and quasars, though well-recognized star. This matter is violently heated in the
80 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

process, giving rise to X-rays. That the layers (on average) instead of from the
emission is often in the form of a burst is limb, and the dependence of temperature
probably caused by something interrupt- on depth can be shown to correspond to
ing the flow of matter onto (or into) the the transport of energy by radiation, not
compact object or by an eclipsing orbit of by convection, at least in the outer layers
the binary system. of the Sun’s atmosphere.
The amount of limb darkening in any
Stellar Atmospheres star depends on the effective temperature
of the star and on the variation in tem-
To interpret a stellar spectrum quantita- perature with depth. Limb darkening is
tively, knowledge of the variation in occasionally an important factor in the
temperature and density with depth in the analysis of stellar observations. For
star’s atmosphere is needed. Some general example, it must be taken into account
theoretical principles are outlined here. to interpret properly the observed light
The gradient of temperature in a curves of eclipsing binaries, and here
star’s atmosphere depends on the method again the results suggest transport of
of energy transport to the surface. One energy via radiation.
way to move energy from the interior of a The layers of a normal star are
star to its surface is via radiation; photons assumed to be in mechanical, or hydro-
produced in the core are repeatedly static, equilibrium. This means that at
absorbed and reemitted by stellar atoms, each point in the atmosphere, the pres-
gradually propagating to the surface. A sure supports the weight of the overlying
second way is via convection, which is layers. In this way, a relation between
a nonradiative mechanism involving a pressure and density can be found for any
physical upwelling of matter much as in given depth.
a pot of boiling water. For the Sun, at In addition to the temperature and
least, there are ways of distinguishing the density gradients, the chemical composi-
mechanism of energy transport. tion of the atmospheric layers as well as
High-speed photographs of the Sun’s the absorptivity, or opacity, of the mate-
disk show that the centre of the disk is rial must be known. In the Sun the
brighter than the limb. The difference in principal source of opacity is the negative
brightness depends on the wavelength of hydrogen ion (H−), a hydrogen atom with
the radiation detected; it is large in violet one extra electron loosely bound to it. In
light, is small in red light, and nearly van- the atmospheres of many stars, the extra
ishes when the Sun is imaged in infrared electrons break loose and recombine with
radiation. This limb darkening arises other ions, thereby causing a reemission
because the Sun becomes hotter toward of energy in the form of light. At visible
its core. At the centre of the disk, radia- wavelengths the main contribution to the
tion is received from deeper and hotter opacity comes from the destruction of
Stars | 81

this ion by interaction with a photon (the surface, so the point from which the depth
above-cited process is termed photodis- or height is measured is arbitrary. The tem-
sociation). In hotter stars, such as Sirius perature of the visible layers ranges from
A (the temperature of which is about 4,700 to 6,200 K, the density from about
10,000 K), atomic hydrogen is the main 10−7 to 4 × 10−7 gram per cubic cm (1 cubic
source of opacity, whereas in cooler stars cm = .06 cubic inch), and the gas pressure
much of the outgoing energy is often from 0.002 to 0.14 atmosphere. The visible
absorbed by molecular bands of titanium layers of stars such as the Sun have very
oxide, water vapour, and carbon monoxide. low densities and pressures compared
Additional sources of opacity are absorp- with Earth’s atmosphere, even though the
tion by helium atoms and electron temperature is much higher. The strata of
scattering in hotter stars, absorption by the solar atmosphere are very opaque
hydrogen molecules and molecular ions, compared with the terrestrial atmosphere.
absorption by certain abundant metals For stars other than the Sun, the
such as magnesium, and Rayleigh scat- dependence of temperature on depth
tering (a type of wavelength-dependent cannot be directly determined. Calcu­
scattering of radiation by particles lations must proceed by a process of
named for the British physicist Lord successive approximations, during which
Rayleigh) in cool supergiant stars. the flux of energy is taken to be constant
At considerable depths in the Sun with depth. Computations have been
and similar stars, convection sets in. undertaken for atmospheres of a variety
Though most models of stellar atmo- of stars ranging from dwarfs to super-
spheres (particularly the outer layers) giants, from cool to hot stars. Their
assume plane-parallel stratified layers, validity can be evaluated only by examin-
photographs of granulation on the Sun’s ing how well they predict the observed
visible surface belie this simple picture. features of a star’s continuous and line
Realistic models must allow for rising spectrum, including the detailed shapes
columns of heated gases in some areas of spectral-line features. Considering
and descent of cooler gases in others. The the known complexities of stellar atmo-
motions of the radiating gases are espe- spheres, the results fit the observations
cially important when the model is to be remarkably well.
used to calculate the anticipated line Severe deviations exist for stars with
spectrum of the star. Typical gas veloci- extended and expanding atmospheres.
ties are on the order of 2 km (1.4 miles) Matter flowing outward from a star pro-
per second in the Sun; in other stars they duces a stellar wind analogous to the
can be much larger. solar wind, but one that is often much
Temperature, density, and pressure all more extensive and violent. In the spec-
increase steadily inward in the Sun’s trum of certain very hot O-type stars (e.g.,
atmosphere. The Sun has no distinct solid Zeta Puppis), strong, relatively narrow
82 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

emission lines can be seen; however, in B9-type component shows the regular
the ultraviolet, observations from rockets velocity changes expected of a binary star
and spacecraft show strong emission but with an absorption (and associated
lines with distinct absorption compo- emission) spectrum corresponding to a
nents on the shorter wavelength side. higher temperature (near spectral type
These absorption features are produced B5) and a blue continuum corresponding
by rapidly outflowing atoms that absorb to a very-high-temperature star. The
the radiation from the underlying stellar anomalous B5-type spectrum is evidently
surface. The observed shifts in frequency excited principally by the hotter source; it
correspond to ejection velocities of envelopes the entire system and shows
about 100 km (60 miles) per second. few changes in velocity with time.
Much gentler stellar winds are found in Supergiant stars have very extended
cool M-type supergiants. atmospheres that are probably not even
Rapid stellar rotation also can modify approximately in hydrostatic equilibrium.
the structure of a star’s atmosphere. Since The atmospheres of M-type supergiant
effective gravity is much reduced near stars appear to be slowly expanding out-
the equator, the appropriate description ward. Observations of the eclipsing
of the atmosphere varies with latitude. binary 31 Cygni show that the K-type
Should the star be spinning at speeds supergiant component has an extremely
near the breakup point, rings or shells inhomogeneous, extended atmosphere
may be shed from the equator. composed of numerous blobs and fila-
Some of the most extreme and inter- ments. As the secondary member of this
esting cases of rotational effects are system slowly moves behind the larger
found in close binary systems. Interpret­ star, its light shines through larger masses
ations of the light and velocity curves of of the K-type star’s atmosphere. If the
these objects suggest that the spectro- atmosphere were in orderly layers, the lines
scopic observations cannot be reconciled of ionized calcium, for example, produced
with simple, orderly rotating stars. by absorption of the light of the B-type
Instead, emission and absorption lines star by the K-type star’s atmosphere,
sometimes overlap in such a way as to would grow stronger uniformly as the
suggest streams of gas moving between eclipse proceeds. They do not, however.
the stars. For example, Beta Lyrae, an
eclipsing binary system, has a period of Stellar Interiors
12.9 days and displays very large shifts in
orbital velocity. The brighter member at Models of the internal structure of stars—
visible wavelengths is a B9-type star; the particularly their temperature, density, and
other member appears to be a hot, abnor- pressure gradients below the surface—
mal object whose spectral lines have not depend on basic principles explained in
been observed. The spectrum of the this section. It is especially important
Stars | 83

that model calculations take account of perfect gas law. In such neutral gases the
the change in the star’s structure with molecular weight is 2 for molecular hydro-
time as its hydrogen supply is gradually gen, 4 for helium, 56 for iron, and so on. In
converted into helium. Fortunately, given the interior of a typical star, however, the
that most stars can be said to be examples high temperatures and densities virtually
of an “ideal gas”, the relations between guarantee that nearly all the matter is
temperature, density, and pressure have a completely ionized; the gas is said to be a
basic simplicity. plasma, the fourth state of matter. Under
these conditions not only are the hydro-
Distribution of Matter gen molecules dissociated into individual
atoms, but also the atoms themselves are
Several mathematical relations can be broken apart (ionized) into their constitu-
derived from basic physical laws, assum- ent protons and electrons. Hence, the
ing that the gas is “ideal” and that a star molecular weight of ionized hydrogen is
has spherical symmetry; both these the average mass of a proton and an elec-
assumptions are met with a high degree tron—namely, ½ on the atom-mass scale
of validity. Another common assumption noted above. By contrast, a completely
is that the interior of a star is in hydro- ionized helium atom contributes a mass
static equilibrium. This balance is often of 4 with a helium nucleus (alpha parti-
expressed as a simple relation between cle) plus two electrons of negligible mass;
pressure gradient and density. A second hence, its average molecular weight is 4/3.
relation expresses the continuity of As another example, a totally ionized
mass—i.e., if M is the mass of matter nickel atom contributes a nucleus of mass
within a sphere of radius r, the mass 58.7 plus 28 electrons; its molecular
added, ΔM, when encountering an weight is then 58.7/29 = 2.02. Since stars
increase in distance Δr through a shell of contain a preponderance of hydrogen
volume 4πr2Δr, equals the volume of the and helium that are completely ionized
shell multiplied by the density, ρ. In throughout the interior, the average par-
symbols, ticle mass, μ, is the (unit) mass of a proton,
divided by a factor taking into account
ΔM = 4πr2ρΔr. the concentrations by weight of hydro-
gen, helium, and heavier ions. Accordingly,
A third relation, termed the equation the molecular weight depends critically
of state, expresses an explicit relation on the star’s chemical composition, par-
between the temperature, density, and ticularly on the ratio of helium to
pressure of a star’s internal matter. hydrogen as well as on the total content
Throughout the star the matter is entirely of heavier matter.
gaseous, and, except in certain highly If the temperature is sufficiently high,
evolved objects, it obeys closely the the radiation pressure, Pr, must be taken
84 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

into account in addition to the perfect The temperature does not enter at all. At
gas pressure, Pg. The total equation of still higher densities the equation of state
state then becomes becomes more intricate, but it can be
shown that even this complicated equa-
P = Pg + Pr. tion of state is adequate to calculate the
internal structure of the white dwarf
Here Pg depends on temperature, stars. As a result, white dwarfs are prob-
density, and molecular weight, whereas Pr ably better understood than most other
depends on temperature and on the radi- celestial objects.
ation density constant, For normal stars such as the Sun, the
energy-transport method for the interior
a = 7.5 × 10−15 must be known. Except in white dwarfs or
in the dense cores of evolved stars, ther-
ergs per cubic cm per degree to the fourth mal conduction is unimportant because
power. With μ = 2 (as an upper limit) and the heat conductivity is very low. One
ρ = 1.4 grams per cubic cm (the mean significant mode of transport is an actual
density of the Sun), the temperature at flow of radiation outward through the star.
which the radiation pressure would equal Starting as gamma rays near the core,
the gas pressure can be calculated. The the radiation is gradually “softened”
answer is 28 million K, much hotter than (becomes longer in wavelength) as it
the core of the Sun. Consequently, radia- works its way to the surface (typically, in
tion pressure may be neglected for the the Sun, over the course of about a mil-
Sun, but it cannot be ignored for hotter, lion years) to emerge as ordinary light
more massive stars. Radiation pressure and heat. The rate of flow of radiation is
may then set an upper limit to stellar proportional to the thermal gradient—
luminosity. namely, the rate of change of temperature
Certain stars, notably white dwarfs, with interior distance. Providing yet
do not obey the perfect gas law. Instead, another relation of stellar structure, this
the pressure is almost entirely contrib- equation uses the following important
uted by the electrons, which are said to quantities: a, the radiation constant noted
be particulate members of a degenerate above; c, the velocity of light; ρ, the den-
gas. If μ' is the average mass per free elec- sity; and κ, a measure of the opacity of the
tron of the totally ionized gas, the matter. The larger the value of κ, the lower
pressure, P, and density, ρ, are such that P the transparency of the material and the
is proportional to a 5/3 power of the den- steeper the temperature fall required to
sity divided by the average mass per free push the energy outward at the required
electron; i.e., rate. The opacity, κ, can be calculated for
any temperature, density, and chemical
P = 1013(ρ/μ')5/3. composition and is found to depend in a
Stars | 85

complex manner largely on the two for- average energy in a star such as the Sun)
mer quantities. are capable of producing nuclear events
In the Sun’s outermost (though still of this kind. A minimum temperature
interior) layers and especially in certain required for fusion is roughly 10 million
giant stars, energy transport takes place K. Since the energies of protons are pro-
by quite another mechanism: large-scale portional to temperature, the rate of
mass motions of gases—namely, convec- energy production rises steeply as tem-
tion. Huge volumes of gas deep within perature increases.
the star become heated, rise to higher For the Sun and other normal main-
layers, and mix with their surroundings, sequence stars, the source of energy lies
thus releasing great quantities of energy. in the conversion of hydrogen to helium.
The extraordinarily complex flow patterns The nuclear reaction thought to occur in
cannot be followed in detail, but when the Sun is called the proton-proton cycle.
convection occurs, a relatively simple In this fusion reaction, two protons (1H)
mathematical relation connects density collide to form a deuteron (a nucleus of
and pressure. Wherever convection does deuterium, 2H), with the liberation of a
occur, it moves energy much more effi- positron (the electron’s positively charged
ciently than radiative transport. antimatter counterpart, denoted e+). Also
emitted is a neutral particle of very small
Source of Stellar Energy (or possibly zero) mass called a neutrino,
ν. While the helium “ash” remains in the
The most basic property of stars is that core where it was produced, the neutrino
their radiant energy must derive from escapes from the solar interior within
internal sources. Given the great length seconds. The positron encounters an ordi-
of time that stars endure (some 10 billion nary negatively charged electron, and the
years in the case of the Sun), it can be two annihilate each other, with much
shown that neither chemical nor gravita- energy being released. This annihilation
tional effects could possibly yield the energy amounts to 1.02 megaelectron
required energies. Instead, the cause volts (MeV), which accords well with
must be nuclear events wherein lighter Einstein’s equation
nuclei are fused to create heavier nuclei,
an inevitable by-product being energy. E = mc2
In the interior of a star, the particles
move rapidly in every direction because (where m is the mass of the two particles,
of the high temperatures present. Every c the velocity of light, and E the liberated
so often a proton moves close enough to energy).
a nucleus to be captured, and a nuclear Next, a proton collides with the deu-
reaction takes place. Only protons of teron to form the nucleus of a light helium
extremely high energy (many times the atom of atomic weight 3, 3He. A “hard”
86 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

X-ray (one of higher energy) or gamma- million tons of hydrogen to 670 million
ray (γ) photon also is emitted. The most tons of helium every second. According
likely event to follow in the chain is a col- to the formula
lision of this 3He nucleus with a normal
He nucleus to form the nucleus of a E = mc2,
beryllium atom of weight 7, 7Be, with the
emission of another gamma-ray photon. more than four million tons of matter liter-
The 7Be nucleus in turn captures a proton ally disappear into radiation each second.
to form a boron nucleus of atomic weight This theory provides a good under-
8, 8B, with the liberation of yet another standing of solar-energy generation,
gamma ray. although for decades it has suffered
The 8B nucleus, however, is very from one potential problem. For the past
unstable. It decays almost immediately several decades the neutrino flux from
into beryllium of atomic weight 8, 8Be, the Sun has been measured by different
with the emission of another positron experimenters, and only one-third of flux
and a neutrino. The nucleus itself there- of electron neutrinos predicted by the
after decays into two helium nuclei, 4He. theory have been detected. Over that
These nuclear events can be represented time, however, the consensus has grown
by the following equations: that the problem and its solution lie not
with the astrophysical model of the Sun
but with the physical nature of neutrinos
themselves. In late 1990s and early 21st
century, scientists collected evidence that
neutrinos oscillate between the state in
which they were created in the Sun and a
In the course of these reactions, four state that is more difficult to detect when
protons are consumed to form one helium they reach Earth.
nucleus, while two electrons perish. The main source of energy in hotter
The mass of four hydrogen atoms is 4 stars is the carbon cycle (also called the
× 1.00797, or 4.03188, atomic mass units; CNO cycle for carbon, nitrogen, and
that of a helium atom is 4.0026. Hence, oxygen), in which hydrogen is trans-
0.02928 atomic mass unit, or 0.7 percent formed into helium, with carbon serving
of the original mass, has disappeared. as a catalyst. The reactions proceed as
Some of this has been carried away by the follows: first, a carbon nucleus, 12C, cap-
elusive neutrinos, but most of it has been tures a proton (hydrogen nucleus), 1H,
converted to radiant energy. In order to to form a nucleus of nitrogen, 13N, a
keep shining at its present rate, a typical gamma-ray photon being emitted in the
star (e.g., the Sun) needs to convert 674 process; thus,
Stars | 87

C + 1H → 13N + γ. Thus, the original 12C nucleus reap-
pears, and the four protons that have been
The light 13N nucleus is unstable, how- added permit the formation of a helium
ever. It emits a positron, e+, which nucleus. The same amount of mass has
encounters an ordinary electron, e−, and disappeared, though a different fraction
the two annihilate one another. A neu- of it may have been carried off by the
trino also is released, and the resulting neutrinos.
C nucleus is stable. Eventually the 13C Only the hottest stars that lie on the
nucleus captures another proton, forms main sequence shine with energy pro-
N, and emits another gamma-ray photon. duced by the carbon cycle. The faint red
In symbols the reaction is represented by dwarfs use the proton-proton cycle
the equations exclusively, whereas stars such as the
Sun shine mostly by the proton-proton
N → 13C + e+ + ν;
reaction but derive some contribution
then 13C + 1H → 14N + γ. from the carbon cycle as well.
The aforementioned mathematical
Ordinary nitrogen, 14N, is stable, but relationships permit the problem of
when it captures a proton to form a stellar structure to be addressed notwith-
nucleus of light oxygen-15, 15O, the result- standing the complexity of the problem.
ing nucleus is unstable against beta An early assumption that stars have a
decay. It therefore emits a positron and a uniform chemical composition throughout
neutrino, a sequence of events expressed their interiors simplified the calculations
by the equations considerably, but it had to be abandoned
when studies in stellar evolution proved
N + 1H → 15O + γ;
that the compositions of stars change
then 15O → 15N + e+ + ν. with age. Computations need to be car-
ried out by a step-by-step process known
Again, the positron meets an elec- as numerical integration. They must take
tron, and the two annihilate each other into account that the density and pres-
while the neutrino escapes. Eventually the sure of a star vanish at the surface,
N nucleus encounters a fast-moving pro- whereas these quantities and the temper-
ton, 1H, and captures it, but the formation ature remain finite at the core.
of an ordinary 16O nucleus by this process Resulting models of a star’s interior,
occurs only rarely. The most likely effect of including the relation between mass,
this proton capture is a breakdown of 15N luminosity, and radius, are determined
and a return to the 12C nucleus—that is, largely by the mode of energy transport.
In the Sun and the fainter main-sequence
N + 1H → 12C + 4He + γ.
stars, energy is transported throughout
88 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the outer layers by convective currents, such depleted cores. Instead, energy is
whereas in the deep interior, energy is assumed to be generated in a thin shell
transported by radiation. Among the hot- surrounding the inert core where some
ter stars of the main sequence, the reverse fuel remains, and it is presumably pro-
appears to be true. The deep interiors of duced by the carbon cycle. Such models
the stars that derive their energy primar- are called shell-source models. As a star
ily from the carbon cycle are in convective uses up increasing amounts of its hydro-
equilibrium, whereas in the outer parts gen supply, its core grows in mass, all the
the energy is carried by radiation. The while the outer envelope of the star con-
observed masses, luminosities, and radii tinues to expand. These shell-source
of most main-sequence stars can be models explain the observed luminosi-
reproduced with reasonable and uniform ties, masses, and radii of giants and
chemical composition. supergiants.
Chemically homogeneous models of The depletion of hydrogen fuel is
giant and supergiant stars cannot be con- appreciable even for a dwarf, middle-aged
structed. If a yellow giant such as Capella star such as the Sun. The Sun seems to
is assumed to be built like a main-se- have been shining at its present rate for
quence star, its central temperature turns about the last 20 percent of its current
out to be so low that no known nuclear age of five billion years. For its observed
process can possibly supply the observed luminosity to be maintained, the Sun’s
energy output. Progress has been made central temperature must have increased
only by assuming that these stars were considerably since the formation of the
once main-sequence objects that, in the solar system, largely as a consequence
course of their development, exhausted of the depletion of the hydrogen in its
the hydrogen in their deep interiors. Inert interior along with an accompanying
cores consequently formed, composed increase in molecular weight and temper-
mainly of the helium ash left from the ature. During the past five billion years,
hydrogen-fusion process. Since no helium the Sun probably brightened by about
nuclear reactions are known to occur at half a magnitude; in early Precambrian
the few tens of millions of kelvins likely time (about two billion years ago), the
to prevail in these interiors, no thermo- solar luminosity must have been some 20
nuclear energy could be released from percent less than it is today.
Star Formation
and Evolution
T hroughout the Milky Way Galaxy (and even near the Sun
itself), astronomers have discovered stars that are well
evolved or even approaching extinction, or both, as well as
occasional stars that must be very young or still in the pro-
cess of formation. Evolutionary effects on these stars are not
negligible, even for a middle-aged star such as the Sun. More
massive stars must display more spectacular effects because
the rate of conversion of mass into energy is higher. While the
Sun produces energy at the rate of about two ergs per gram
per second, a more luminous main-sequence star can release
energy at a rate some 1,000 times greater. Consequently,
effects that require billions of years to be easily recognized in
the Sun might occur within a few million years in highly
luminous and massive stars. A supergiant star such as
Antares, a bright main-sequence star such as Rigel, or even a
more modest star such as Sirius cannot have endured as long
as the Sun has endured. These stars must have been formed
relatively recently.



Detailed radio maps of nearby molecular clouds reveal that

they are clumpy, with regions containing a wide range of
densities—from a few tens of molecules (mostly hydrogen)
per cubic centimetre to more than one million. Stars form
90 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

only from the densest regions, termed about 1 to 10 percent of all star births. The
cloud cores, though they need not lie at overall efficiency of star formation in
the geometric centre of the cloud. Large associations is quite small. Typically less
cores (which probably contain subcon- than 1 percent of the mass of a molecular
densations) up to a few light-years in size cloud becomes stars in one crossing time
seem to give rise to unbound associations of the molecular cloud (about 5 106 years).
of very massive stars (called OB associa- Low efficiency of star formation presum-
tions after the spectral type of their most ably explains why any interstellar gas
prominent members, O and B stars) or remains in the Galaxy after 1010 years of
to bound clusters of less massive stars. evolution. Star formation at the present
Whether a stellar group materializes as an time must be a mere trickle of the torrent
association or a cluster seems to depend that occurred when the Galaxy was young.
on the efficiency of star formation. A typical cloud core rotates fairly
If only a small fraction of the matter slowly, and its distribution of mass is
goes into making stars, the rest being strongly concentrated toward the centre.
blown away in winds or expanding H II The slow rotation rate is probably attribut-
regions, then the remaining stars end up able to the braking action of magnetic
in a gravitationally unbound association, fields that thread through the core and its
dispersed in a single crossing time envelope. This magnetic braking forces the
(diameter divided by velocity) by the ran- core to rotate at nearly the same angular
dom motions of the formed stars. On speed as the envelope as long as the core
the other hand, if 30 percent or more of the does not go into dynamic collapse. Such
mass of the cloud core goes into making braking is an important process because
stars, then the formed stars will remain it assures a source of matter of relatively
bound to one another, and the ejection of low angular momentum (by the standards
stars by random gravitational encounters of the interstellar medium) for the forma-
between cluster members will take many tion of stars and planetary systems.
crossing times. It also has been proposed that mag-
Low-mass stars also are formed in netic fields play an important role in the
associations called T associations after very separation of the cores from their
the prototypical stars found in such envelopes. The proposal involves the
groups, T Tauri stars. The stars of a T slippage of the neutral component of a
association form from loose aggregates lightly ionized gas under the action of
of small molecular cloud cores a few the self-gravity of the matter past the
tenths of a light-year in size that are ran- charged particles suspended in a back-
domly distributed through a larger region ground magnetic field. This slow slippage
of lower average density. The formation of would provide the theoretical explana-
stars in associations is the most common tion for the observed low overall efficiency
outcome; bound clusters account for only of star formation in molecular clouds.
Star Formation and Evolution | 91

At some point in the course of the the available raw material is not what
evolution of a molecular cloud, one or stops the accretion flow. A rather differ-
more of its cores become unstable and ent picture is revealed by observations
subject to gravitational collapse. Good at radio, optical, and X-ray wavelengths.
arguments exist that the central regions All newly born stars are highly active,
should collapse first, producing a con- blowing powerful winds that clear the
densed protostar whose contraction is surrounding regions of the infalling gas
halted by the large buildup of thermal and dust. It is apparently this wind that
pressure when radiation can no longer reverses the accretion flow.
escape from the interior to keep the (now The geometric form taken by the
opaque) body relatively cool. The proto- outflow is intriguing. Jets of matter seem
star, which initially has a mass not much to squirt in opposite directions along the
larger than Jupiter, continues to grow by rotational poles of the star (or disk) that
accretion as more and more overlying sweep up the ambient matter in two lobes
material falls on top of it. The infall shock, of outwardly moving molecular gas—the
at the surfaces of the protostar and the so-called bipolar flows. Such jets and
swirling nebular disk surrounding it, bipolar flows are doubly interesting
arrests the inflow, creating an intense because their counterparts were discov-
radiation field that tries to work its way ered some time earlier on a fantastically
out of the infalling envelope of gas and larger scale in the double-lobed forms of
dust. The photons, having optical wave- extragalactic radio sources, such as
lengths, are degraded into longer quasars.
wavelengths by dust absorption and The underlying energy source that
reemission, so that the protostar is drives the outflow is unknown. Promising
apparent to a distant observer only as mechanisms invoke tapping the rotational
an infrared object. Provided that proper energy stored in either the newly formed
account is taken of the effects of rotation star or the inner parts of its nebular disk.
and magnetic field, this theoretical pic- There exist theories suggesting that
ture correlates with the radiative spectra strong magnetic fields coupled with rapid
emitted by many candidate protostars rotation act as whirling rotary blades to
discovered near the centres of molecular fling out the nearby gas. Eventual colli-
cloud cores. mation of the outflow toward the rotation
An interesting speculation concern- axes appears to be a generic feature of
ing the mechanism that ends the infall many proposed models.
phase exists: it notes that the inflow pro- Pre-main-sequence stars of low mass
cess cannot run to completion. Since first appear as visible objects, T Tauri
molecular clouds as a whole contain stars, with sizes that are several times
much more mass than what goes into their ultimate main-sequence sizes. They
each generation of stars, the depletion of subsequently contract on a timescale of
92 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

tens of millions of years, the main source the star. A star of the Sun’s mass gener-
of radiant energy in this phase being the ally requires tens of millions of years to
release of gravitational energy. As the inter- reach the main sequence, whereas one of
nal temperature rises to a few million much greater mass might take a few hun-
kelvins, deuterium (heavy hydrogen) is dred thousand years.
first destroyed. Then lithium, beryllium, By the time the star reaches the main
and boron are broken down into helium sequence, it is still chemically homoge-
as their nuclei are bombarded by protons neous. With additional time, the hydrogen
moving at increasingly high speeds. fuel in the core is converted to helium, and
When their central temperatures reach the temperature slowly rises. If the star is
values comparable to 107 K, hydrogen sufficiently massive to have a convective
fusion ignites in their cores, and they core, the matter in this region has a chance
settle down to long stable lives on the to be thoroughly mixed, but the outer
main sequence. The early evolution of region does not mix with the core. The
high-mass stars is similar. The only differ- Sun, by contrast, has no convective core,
ence is that their faster overall evolution and the helium-to-hydrogen ratio is maxi-
may allow them to reach the main mum at the centre and decreases outward.
sequence while they are still enshrouded Throughout the life of the Sun, there has
in the cocoon of gas and dust from which been a steady depletion of hydrogen, so
they formed. that the concentration of hydrogen at the
Detailed calculations show that a centre today is probably only about one-
protostar first appears on the Hertzsprung- third of the original amount. The rest has
Russell diagram well above the main been transformed into helium. Like the rate
sequence because it is too bright for its of formation of a star, the subsequent
colour. As it continues to contract, it rate of evolution on the main sequence is
moves downward and to the left toward proportional to the mass of the star; the
the main sequence. greater the mass, the more rapid the evo-
lution. Whereas the Sun is destined to
Subsequent development endure for some 10 billion years, a star of
on the main sequence twice the Sun’s mass burns its fuel at such
a rate that it lasts about 3 billion years,
As the central temperature and density and a star of 10 times the Sun’s mass has a
continue to rise, the proton-proton and lifetime measured in tens of millions of
carbon cycles become active, and the years. By contrast, stars having a fraction
development of the (now genuine) star is of the mass of the Sun seem able to endure
stabilized. The star then reaches the main for trillions of years, which is much greater
sequence, where it remains for most of its than the current age of the universe.
active life. The time required for the con- The spread of luminosities and colours
traction phase depends on the mass of of stars within the main sequence can be
Star Formation and Evolution | 93

understood as a consequence of evolution. Later stages of evolution

At the beginning of their lives as hydro-
gen-burning objects, stars define a nearly The great spread in luminosities and
unique line in the Hertzsprung-Russell colours of giant, supergiant, and subgiant
diagram called the zero-age main sequence. stars is also understood to result from
Without differences in initial chemical evolutionary events. When a star leaves
composition or in rotational velocity, all the main sequence, its future evolution is
the stars would start exactly from this precisely determined by its mass, rate of
unique line. As the stars evolve, they rotation (or angular momentum), and
adjust to the increase in the helium-to- chemical composition and whether it is a
hydrogen ratio in their cores and member of a close binary system. Giants
gradually move away from the zero-age and supergiants of nearly the same radius
main sequence. When the core fuel is and surface temperature may have
exhausted, the internal structure of the star evolved from main-sequence stars of dif-
changes rapidly; it quickly leaves the main ferent ages and masses.
sequence and moves toward the region of
giants and supergiants. Evolution of Low-Mass Stars
As the composition of its interior
changes, the star departs the main Theoretical calculations suggest that,
sequence slowly at first and then more as the star evolves from the main
rapidly. When about 10 percent of the sequence, the hydrogen-helium core
star’s mass has been converted to gradually increases in mass but shrinks
helium, the structure of the star changes in size as more and more helium ash is fed
drastically. All of the hydrogen in the in through the outer hydrogen-burning
core has been burned out, and this shell. Energy is carried outward from
central region is composed almost the shell by rapid convection currents.
entirely of inert helium, with trace The temperature of the shell rises; the
admixtures of heavier elements. The star becomes more luminous; and it
energy production now occurs in a thin finally approaches the top of the giant
shell where hydrogen is consumed and domain on the Hertzsprung-Russell dia-
more helium added to a growing but gram. By contrast, the core shrinks by
inert core. The outer parts of the star gravitational contraction, becoming hot-
expand outward because of the increased ter and denser until it reaches a central
burning there, and as the star swells up, temperature of about 120 million K. At
its luminosity gradually increases. The that temperature the previously inert
details of the evolutionary process helium is consumed in the production of
depend on the metal-to-hydrogen ratio, heavier elements.
and the course of evolution differs for When two helium nuclei each of mass
stars of different population types. 4 atomic units (4He) are jammed together,
94 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

it might be expected that they would form stage along what is called the asymptotic
a nucleus of beryllium of mass 8 atomic giant branch, located slightly above the
units (8Be). In symbols, main region of giants in the Hertzsprung-
Russell diagram.
He + 4He → 8Be. In more massive stars, this cycle of
events can continue, with the stellar core
Actually, however, 8Be is unstable and reaching ever-higher temperatures and
breaks down into two helium nuclei. If fusing increasingly heavy nuclei, until
the temperature and density are high the star eventually experiences a super-
enough, though, the short-lived beryllium nova explosion. In lower-mass stars like
nucleus can (before it decays) capture the Sun, however, there is insufficient
another helium nucleus in what is essen- mass to squeeze the core to the tempera-
tially a three-body collision to form a tures needed for this chain of fusion
nucleus of carbon-12—namely, processes to proceed, and eventually the
outermost layers extend so far from the
Be + 4He → 12C. source of nuclear burning that they cool
to a few thousand kelvins. The result is an
This fusion of helium in the core, object having two distinct parts: a well-
called the triple alpha process, can begin defined core of mostly carbon ash (a white
gradually in some stars, but in stars with dwarf star) and a swollen spherical shell
masses between about half of and three of cooler and thinner matter spread over
times the Sun’s mass, it switches on with a volume roughly the size of the solar
dramatic suddenness, a process known system. Such shells of matter, called
as the helium flash. Outwardly the star planetary nebulae, are actually observed
shows no discernible effect, but the course in large numbers in the sky. Of the nearly
of its evolution is changed with this new 3,000 examples known in the Milky Way
source of energy. Having only recently Galaxy alone, NGC 7027 is the most
become a red giant, it now evolves some- intensively studied.
what down and then to the left in the Objects called brown dwarfs are
Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, becoming intermediate between a planet and a star
smaller and hotter. This stage of core and so evolve differently from low-mass
helium burning, however, lasts only about stars. Brown dwarfs usually have a mass
a hundredth of the time taken for core less than 0.075 that of the Sun, or roughly
hydrogen burning. It continues until the 75 times that of Jupiter. (This maximum
core helium supply is exhausted, after mass is a little higher for objects with
which helium fusion is limited to a shell fewer heavy elements than the Sun.)
around the core, just as was the case for Many astronomers draw the line between
hydrogen in an earlier stage. This again brown dwarfs and planets at the lower
sets the star evolving toward the red giant fusion boundary of about 13 Jupiter
Star Formation and Evolution | 95

hydrogen, but they then stabilize, and the

fusion stops.)
Brown dwarfs are not actually brown
but appear from deep red to magenta
depending on their temperature. Objects
below about 2,200 K, however, do actually
have mineral grains in their atmospheres.
The surface temperatures of brown dwarfs
depend on both their mass and their age.
The most massive and youngest brown
dwarfs have temperatures as high as
2,800 K, which overlaps with the temper-
atures of very low-mass stars, or red
dwarfs. (By comparison, the Sun has a
surface temperature of 5,800 K.) All
brown dwarfs eventually cool below the
The brown dwarf 2MASSWJ 1207334−393254 minimum main-sequence stellar temper-
(centre) as seen in a photo taken by the Very ature of about 1,800 K. The oldest and
Large Telescope at the European Southern smallest can be as cool as about 500 K.
Observatory, Cerro Paranal, Chile. Orbiting
Brown dwarfs were first hypothesized
the brown dwarf at a distance of 69 billion km
in 1963 by American astronomer Shiv
(43 billion miles) is a planet (lower left) that
has a mass four times that of Jupiter. ESO
Kumar, who called them “black” dwarfs.
American astronomer Jill Tarter pro-
posed the name “brown dwarf” in 1975;
masses. The difference between brown although brown dwarfs are not brown,
dwarfs and stars is that, unlike stars, the name stuck because these objects
brown dwarfs do not reach stable lumi- were thought to have dust, and the more
nosities by thermonuclear fusion of accurate “red dwarf” already described a
normal hydrogen. Both stars and brown different type of star. Searches for brown
dwarfs produce energy by fusion of deu- dwarfs in the 1980s and 1990s found sev-
terium (a rare isotope of hydrogen) in eral candidates; however, none was
their first few million years. The cores of confirmed as a brown dwarf. In order to
stars then continue to contract and get distinguish brown dwarfs from stars of
hotter until they fuse hydrogen. However, the same temperature, one can search
brown dwarfs prevent further contraction their spectra for evidence of lithium
because their cores are dense enough to (which stars destroy when hydrogen
hold themselves up with electron degen- fusion begins). Alternatively, one can
eracy pressure. (Those brown dwarfs look for (fainter) objects below the mini-
above 60 Jupiter masses begin to fuse mum stellar temperature. In 1995 both
96 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

methods paid off. Astronomers at the stony meteorites called chondrites and
University of California, Berkeley, from the composition of the Sun’s atmo-
observed lithium in an object in the sphere, supplemented by data acquired
Pleiades, but this result was not immedi- from spectral observations of hot stars
ately and widely embraced. This object, and gaseous nebulae. The table lists the
however, was later accepted as the first most abundant chemical elements; it
binary brown dwarf. Astronomers at represents an average pertaining to all
Palomar Observatory and Johns Hopkins cosmic objects in general.
University found a companion to a low-
mass star called Gliese 229 B. The The most abundant
detection of methane in its spectrum chemical elements
showed that it has a surface tempera- (by numbers of atoms per 109
ture less than 1,200 K. Its extremely low atoms of hydrogen)
luminosity, coupled with the age of its element symbol abundance
stellar companion, implies that it is about
50 Jupiter masses. Hence, Gliese 229 B helium He 9.8 × 107
was the first object widely accepted as a carbon C 501,000
brown dwarf. Infrared sky surveys and nitrogen N 100,000
other techniques have now uncovered oxygen O 794,000
hundreds of brown dwarfs. Some of them fluorine F 33
are companions to stars; others are
neon Ne 123,000
binary brown dwarfs; and many of them
are isolated objects. They seem to form in sodium Na 2,100
much the same way as stars, and there magnesium Mg 38,000
may be 1–10 percent as many brown aluminum Al 3,000
dwarfs as stars. silicon Si 35,000
phosphorus P 320
Origin of the Chemical sulfur S 17,400
chlorine Cl 250

The relative abundances of the chemical argon Ar 3,600

elements provide significant clues regard- potassium K 133
ing their origin. Earth’s crust has been calcium Ca 2,200
affected severely by erosion, fraction- titanium Ti 91
ation, and other geologic events, so that chromium Cr 473
its present varied composition offers few manganese Mn 288
clues as to its early stages. The composi-
iron Fe 33,000
tion of the matter from which the solar
system formed is deduced from that of nickel Ni 1,800
Star Formation and Evolution | 97

The most obvious feature is that the A large body of evidence now sup-
light elements tend to be more abundant ports the idea that only the nuclei of
than the heavier ones. That is to say, when hydrogen and helium, with trace amounts
abundance is plotted against atomic of other light nuclei such as lithium,
mass, the resulting graph shows a decline beryllium, and boron, were produced in
with increasing atomic mass up to an the aftermath of the big bang, the hot
atomic mass value of about 100. Thereafter explosion from which the universe is
the abundance is more nearly constant. thought to have emerged, whereas the
Furthermore, the decline is not smooth. heavier nuclei were, and continue to be,
Among the lighter elements, those of produced in stars. The majority of them,
even atomic number tend to be more however, are fashioned only in the most
abundant, and those with an atomic massive stars and some only for a short
number divisible by four are especially period of time after supernova
favoured. The abundances of lithium, explosions.
beryllium, and boron are rare compared The splitting in the spectral sequence
with those of carbon, nitrogen, and oxy- among the cooler stars can be understood
gen. There is a pronounced abundance in terms of composition differences. The
peak for iron and a relatively high peak M-type stars appear to have a normal (i.e.,
for lead, the most stable of the heavy solar) makeup, with oxygen more abun-
elements. dant than carbon and the zirconium
The overwhelming preponderance of group of elements much less abundant
hydrogen suggests that all the nuclei than the titanium group. The R-type and
were built from this simplest element, a N-type stars often contain more carbon
hypothesis first proposed many years ago than oxygen, whereas the S-type stars
and widely accepted for a time. According appear to have an enhanced content of
to this now-defunct idea, all matter was zirconium as compared with titanium.
initially compressed into one huge ball of Other abundance anomalies are
neutrons. As the universe began to found in a peculiar class of higher tem-
expand, its density decreased and the perature stars, called Wolf-Rayet (or W)
neutrons decayed into protons and elec- stars, in which objects containing pre-
trons. The protons then captured neutrons, dominantly helium, carbon, and oxygen
one after another, underwent beta decay are distinguished from those containing
(ejection of electrons), and synthesized helium and nitrogen, some carbon, and
the heavy elements. A major difficulty little observed oxygen. These stars are
with this hypothesis, among various other extremely hot white stars that have
problems, is that atomic masses 5 and 8 peculiar spectra thought to indicate
are unstable, and there is no known way to either great turbulence within the star or
build heavier nuclei by successive neutron a steady, voluminous ejection of material.
capture. A typical Wolf-Rayet star is several times
98 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the diameter of the Sun and thousands of during the late evolution of a star have
times more luminous. Only a few hun- been proposed.
dred are known, located mostly in the After hydrogen, helium is the most
spiral arms of the Milky Way Galaxy. (The abundant element. Most of it was proba-
type was first distinguished in 1867 by bly produced in the initial big bang.
the French astronomers Charles-Joseph- Helium is the normal ash of hydrogen
Étienne Wolf and Georges-Antoine-Pons consumption, and in the dense cores of
Rayet.) Significantly, all these abundance highly evolved stars, helium itself is con-
anomalies are found in stars thought to sumed to form, successively, carbon-12,
be well advanced in their evolutionary oxygen-16, neon-20, and magnesium-24.
development. No main-sequence dwarfs By this time in the core of a sufficiently
display such effects. massive star, the temperature has reached
A most critical observation is the some 700 million K. Under these condi-
detection of the unstable element techne- tions, particles such as protons, neutrons,
tium in the S-type stars. This element has and helium-4 nuclei also can interact with
been produced synthetically in nuclear the newly created nuclei to produce a
laboratories on Earth, and its longest- variety of other elements such as fluorine
lived isotope, technetium-99, is known to and sodium. Because these “uneven” ele-
have a half-life of 200,000 years. The ments are produced in lesser quantities
implication is that this element must than those divisible by four, both the
have been produced within the past few peaks and troughs in the curve of cosmic
hundred thousand years in the stars abundances can be explained.
where it has been observed, suggesting As the stellar core continues to shrink
furthermore that this nucleosynthetic and the central temperature and density
process is at work at least in some stars are forced even higher, a fundamental dif-
today. How the star upwells this heavy ficulty is soon reached. A temperature of
element from the core (where it is pro- roughly one billion K is sufficient to cre-
duced) to the surface (near where it is ate silicon (silicon-28) by the usual
observed) in such a short time without method of helium capture. This tempera-
the star’s exploding provides an impres- ture, however, is also high enough to
sive challenge to theoreticians. begin to break apart silicon as well as
Researchers have been able to dem- some of the other newly synthesized
onstrate how elements might be created nuclei. A “semi-equilibrium” is set up in
in stars by nuclear processes occurring at the star’s core—a balance of sorts between
very high temperatures and densities. No the production and destruction (photo-
one mechanism can account for all the disintegration) of silicon. Ironically,
elements; rather, several distinct pro- though destructive, this situation is suit-
cesses occurring at different epochs able for the production of even heavier
Star Formation and Evolution | 99

nuclei up to and including iron (iron-56), with supernovae. Supernovae also release
again through the successive capture of many of the heavier elements that make
helium nuclei. up the components of the solar system,
including Earth, into the interstellar
Evolution of medium. Spectral analyses show that
High-Mass Stars abundances of the heavier elements are
greater than normal, indicating that these
If the temperature and the density of the elements do indeed form during the
core continue to rise, the iron-group course of the explosion. The shell of a
nuclei tend to break down into helium supernova remnant continues to expand
nuclei, but a large amount of energy is until, at a very advanced stage, it dissolves
suddenly consumed in the process. The into the interstellar medium.
star then suffers a violent implosion, or Historically, only seven supernovae
collapse, after which it soon explodes as a are known to have been recorded before
supernova. the early 17th century. The most famous
The term supernova is derived from of them occurred in 1054 and was seen in
nova (Latin: “new”), the name for another one of the horns of the constellation
type of exploding star. Supernovae Taurus. The remnants of this explosion
resemble novae in several respects. Both are visible today as the Crab Nebula,
are characterized by a tremendous, rapid which is composed of glowing ejecta of
brightening lasting for a few weeks, fol- gases flying outward in an irregular
lowed by a slow dimming. Spectroscopically, fashion and a rapidly spinning, pulsating
they show blue-shifted emission lines, neutron star, called a pulsar, in the centre.
which imply that hot gases are blown The supernova of 1054 was recorded by
outward. But a supernova explosion, unlike Chinese and Korean observers; it also
a nova outburst, is a cataclysmic event for a may have been seen by southwestern
star, one that essentially ends its active American Indians, as suggested by cer-
(i.e., energy-generating) lifetime. When a tain rock paintings discovered in Arizona
star “goes supernova,” considerable and New Mexico. It was bright enough to
amounts of its matter, equaling the mate- be seen during the day, and its great lumi-
rial of several Suns, may be blasted into nosity lasted for weeks. Other prominent
space with such a burst of energy as to supernovae are known to have been
enable the exploding star to outshine its observed from Earth in 185, 393, 1006,
entire home galaxy. 1181, 1572, and 1604.
Supernovae explosions release not The closest and most easily observed
only tremendous amounts of radio waves of the hundreds of supernovae that have
and X-rays but also cosmic rays. Some been recorded since 1604 was first sighted
gamma-ray bursts have been associated on the morning of Feb. 24, 1987, by the
100 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Canadian astronomer Ian K. Shelton than iron absorbs rather than produces
while working at the Las Campanas energy, however, and, since energy is no
Observatory in Chile. Designated SN longer available, an iron core is built up
1987A, this formerly extremely faint at the centre of the aging, heavyweight
object attained a magnitude of 4.5 within star. When the iron core becomes too
just a few hours, thus becoming visible to massive, its ability to support itself by
the unaided eye. The newly appearing means of the outward explosive thrust of
supernova was located in the Large internal fusion reactions fails to counter-
Magellanic Cloud at a distance of about act the tremendous pull of its own gravity.
160,000 light-years. It immediately Consequently, the core collapses. If the
became the subject of intense observa- core’s mass is less than about three solar
tion by astronomers throughout the masses, the collapse continues until the
Southern Hemisphere and was observed core reaches a point at which its constitu-
by the Hubble Space Telescope. SN ent nuclei and free electrons are crushed
1987A’s brightness peaked in May 1987, together into a hard, rapidly spinning
with a magnitude of about 2.9, and slowly core. This core consists almost entirely of
declined in the following months. neutrons, which are compressed in a vol-
Supernovae may be divided into two ume only 20 km (12 miles) across but
broad classes, Type I and Type II, accord- whose combined weight equals that of
ing to the way in which they detonate. several Suns. A teaspoonful of this
Type I supernovae may be up to three extraordinarily dense material would
times brighter than Type II; they also dif- weigh 50 billion tons on Earth. Such an
fer from Type II supernovae in that their object is called a neutron star.
spectra contain no hydrogen lines and The supernova detonation occurs
they expand about twice as rapidly. when material falls in from the outer lay-
The so-called classic explosion, asso- ers of the star and then rebounds off the
ciated with Type II supernovae, has as core, which has stopped collapsing and
progenitor a very massive star (a Popula­ suddenly presents a hard surface to the
tion I star) of at least eight solar masses infalling gases. The shock wave generated
that is at the end of its active lifetime. by this collision propagates outward and
(These are seen only in spiral galaxies, blows off the star’s outer gaseous layers.
most often near the arms.) Until this stage The amount of material blasted outward
of its evolution, the star has shone by depends on the star’s original mass.
means of the nuclear energy released at If the core mass exceeds three solar
and near its core in the process of squeez- masses, the core collapse is too great to
ing and heating lighter elements such as produce a neutron star; the imploding
hydrogen or helium into successively star is compressed into an even smaller
heavier elements—i.e., in the process of and denser body—namely, a black hole.
nuclear fusion. Forming elements heavier Infalling material disappears into the
Star Formation and Evolution | 101

black hole, the gravitational field of which rate of the universe and that rate’s varia-
is so intense that not even light can tion with time. Dark energy, a repulsive
escape. The entire star is not taken in by force that is the dominant component (73
the black hole, since much of the falling percent) of the universe, was discovered
envelope of the star either rebounds from in 1998 with this method. Type Ia super-
the temporary formation of a spinning novae that exploded when the universe
neutron core or misses passing through was only two-thirds of its present size
the very centre of the core and is spun off were fainter and thus farther away than
instead. they would be in a universe without dark
Type I supernovae can be divided energy. This implies that the expansion
into subgroups, Ia, Ib, Ic, on the basis of rate of the universe is faster now than it
their spectra. The exact nature of the was in the past, a result of the current
explosion mechanism in Type I generally dominance of dark energy. (Dark energy
is still uncertain, although Ia supernovae, was negligible in the early universe.)
at least, are thought to originate in binary In the catastrophic events leading to
systems consisting of a moderately mas- a supernova explosion and for roughly
sive star and a white dwarf, with material 1,000 seconds thereafter, a great variety
flowing to the white dwarf from its larger of nuclear reactions can take place. These
companion. A thermonuclear explosion processes seem to be able to explain the
results if the flow of material is sufficient trace abundances of all the known ele-
to raise the mass of the white dwarf ments heavier than iron.
above the Chandrasekhar limit of 1.44 Two situations have been envisioned,
solar masses. Unlike the case of an ordi- and both involve the capture of neutrons.
nary nova, for which the mass flow is less When a nucleus captures a neutron, its
and only a superficial explosion results, mass increases by one atomic unit and
the white dwarf in a Ia supernova explo- its charge remains the same. Such a
sion is presumably destroyed completely. nucleus is often too heavy for its charge
Radioactive elements, notably nickel-56, and might emit an electron (beta particle)
are formed. When nickel-56 decays to to attain a more stable state. It then
cobalt-56 and the latter to iron-56, signifi- becomes a nucleus of the next higher ele-
cant amounts of energy are released, ment in the periodic table of the elements.
providing perhaps most of the light emit- In the first such process, called the slow,
ted during the weeks following the or s, process, the flux of neutrons is low. A
explosion. nucleus captures a neutron and leisurely
Type Ia supernovae are useful probes emits a beta particle; its nuclear charge
of the structure of the universe, since they then increases by one.
all have the same luminosity. By measur- Beta decay is often very slow, and, if
ing the apparent brightness of these the flux of neutrons is high, the nucleus
objects, one also measures the expansion might capture another neutron before
102 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

there is time for it to undergo decay. In neighbourhood of starspots and stellar

this rapid, or r, process, the evolution of a flares, and they also arise from supernova
nucleus can be very different from that in explosions themselves. Some of these
a slow process. In supernova explosions, light-element nuclei also might be pro-
vast quantities of neutrons can be pro- duced by cosmic rays shattering atoms of
duced, and these could result in the rapid carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and other ele-
buildup of massive elements. One inter- ments in the interstellar medium.
esting feature of the synthesis of heavy Finally, the peculiar A-type stars com-
elements by neutron capture at a high prise a class of cosmic objects with
rate in a supernova explosion is that strange elemental abundance anomalies.
nuclei much heavier than lead or even These might arise from mechanical
uranium can be fashioned. These in turn effects—for example, selective radiation
can decay by fission, releasing additional pressure or photospheric diffusion and
amounts of energy. element separation—rather than from
The superabundant elements in the nuclear effects. Some stars show enhanced
S-type stars come from the slow neutron silicon, others enhanced lanthanides. The
process. Moreover, the observation of so-called manganese stars show great
technetium-99 is ample evidence that overabundances of manganese and gal-
these processes are at work in stars today. lium, usually accompanied by an excess
Even so, some low-abundance atomic of mercury. The latter stars exhibit weak
nuclei are proton-rich (i.e., neutron-defi- helium lines, low rotational velocities,
cient) and cannot be produced by either and excess amounts of gallium, stron-
the s or the r process. Presumably, they tium, yttrium, mercury, and platinum, as
have been created in relatively rare well as absences of such elements as
events—e.g., one in which a quantum of aluminum and nickel. When these types
hard radiation, a gamma-ray photon, of stars are found in binaries, the two
causes a neutron to be ejected. members often display differing chemical
In addition, no known nuclear pro- compositions. It is most difficult to envi-
cess is capable of producing lithium, sion plausible nuclear events that can
beryllium, and boron in stellar interiors. account for the peculiarities of these
These lightweight nuclei are probably abundances, particularly the strange iso-
produced by the breakdown, or spalla- tope ratios of mercury.
tion, of heavier elements, such as iron
and magnesium, by high-energy particles End states of stars
in stellar atmospheres or in the early
stages of star formation. Apparently, The final stages in the evolution of a star
these high-energy particles, called cos- depend on its mass and angular momen-
mic rays, originate by means of tum and whether it is a member of a
electromagnetic disturbances in the close binary.
Star Formation and Evolution | 103

White Dwarfs The central region of a typical white

dwarf star is composed of a mixture of car-
The faint white dwarf stars represent bon and oxygen. Surrounding this core is
the endpoint of the evolution of inter- a thin envelope of helium and, in most
mediate- and low-mass stars. White dwarf cases, an even thinner layer of hydrogen.
stars, so called because of the white A very few white dwarf stars are sur-
colour of the first few that were discov- rounded by a thin carbon envelope. Only
ered, are characterized by a low the outermost stellar layers are accessible
luminosity, a mass on the order of that of to astronomical observations.
the Sun, and a radius comparable to that White dwarfs evolve from stars with
of Earth. Because of their large mass an initial mass of up to three or four solar
and small dimensions, such stars are masses or even possibly higher. After
dense and compact objects with average quiescent phases of hydrogen and helium
densities approaching 1,000,000 times burning in its core—separated by a first
that of water. red-giant phase—the star becomes a red
Unlike most other stars that are sup- giant for a second time. Near the end of
ported against their own gravitation by this second red-giant phase, the star loses
normal gas pressure, white dwarf stars its extended envelope in a catastrophic
are supported by the degeneracy pres- event, leaving behind a dense, hot, and
sure of the electron gas in their interior. luminous core surrounded by a glowing
Degeneracy pressure is the increased spherical shell. This is the planetary-
resistance exerted by electrons compos- nebula phase. During the entire course
ing the gas, as a result of stellar of its evolution, which typically takes sev-
contraction. The application of the so- eral billion years, the star will lose a major
called Fermi-Dirac statistics and of fraction of its original mass through stel-
special relativity to the study of the equi- lar winds in the giant phases and through
librium structure of white dwarf stars its ejected envelope. The hot planetary-
leads to the existence of a mass-radius nebula nucleus left behind has a mass of
relationship through which a unique 0.5–1.0 solar mass and will eventually cool
radius is assigned to a white dwarf of a down to become a white dwarf.
given mass; the larger the mass, the White dwarfs have exhausted all their
smaller the radius. Furthermore, the exis- nuclear fuel and so have no residual
tence of a limiting mass is predicted, nuclear energy sources. Their compact
above which no stable white dwarf star structure also prevents further gravita-
can exist. This limiting mass, known as tional contraction. The energy radiated
the Chandrasekhar limit, is on the order away into the interstellar medium is thus
of 1.4 solar masses. Both predictions are provided by the residual thermal energy
in excellent agreement with observations of the nondegenerate ions composing its
of white dwarf stars. core. That energy slowly diffuses outward
104 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

through the insulating stellar envelope, called a close binary star, are aged: one is
and the white dwarf slowly cools down. a red giant and the other a white dwarf. In
Following the complete exhaustion of certain cases, the red giant expands into
this reservoir of thermal energy, a process the gravitational domain of its compan-
that takes several additional billion years, ion. The gravitational field of the white
the white dwarf stops radiating and has dwarf is so strong that hydrogen-rich
by then reached the final stage of its evo- matter from the outer atmosphere of the
lution and becomes a cold and inert red giant is pulled onto the smaller star.
stellar remnant. Such an object is some- When a sizable quantity of this material
times called a black dwarf. accumulates on the surface of the white
White dwarf stars are occasionally dwarf, a nuclear explosion occurs there,
found in binary systems, as is the case for causing the ejection of hot surface gases
the white dwarf companion to the bright- on the order of ⁄10,000 the amount of mate-
est star in the night sky, Sirius. Aside rial in the Sun. According to the prevailing
from playing an essential role in Type Ia theory, the white dwarf settles down after
supernovae, they are also behind the out- the explosion; however, the flow of hydro-
bursts of novae and of other cataclysmic gen-rich material resumes immediately,
variable stars. and the whole process that produced the
Novae are a class of exploding stars outburst repeats itself, resulting in
whose luminosity temporarily increases another explosion about 1,000 to 10,000
from several thousand to as much as years later. Recent research, however,
100,000 times its normal level. A nova suggests that such outbursts may recur
reaches maximum luminosity within hours at much longer intervals—every 100,000
after its outburst and may shine intensely years or so. It is explained that a nova
for several days or occasionally for a few eruption separates the members of the
weeks, after which it slowly returns to its binary system, interrupting the transfer
former level of luminosity. Stars that of matter until the two stars move close
become novae are nearly always too faint together again after a considerable length
before eruption to be seen with the unaided of time.
eye. Their sudden increase in luminosity,
however, is sometimes great enough to Neutron Stars
make them readily visible in the nighttime
sky. To observers, such objects may appear When the mass of a star’s remnant core
to be new stars; hence the name nova from lies between 1.4 and about 2 solar masses,
the Latin word for “new.” it apparently becomes a neutron star with
Most novae are thought to occur in a density more than a million times
double-star systems in which members greater than even that of a white dwarf.
revolve closely around each other. Both These extremely dense, compact stars are
members of such a system, commonly thought to be composed primarily of
Star Formation and Evolution | 105

this solid layer, where the pressure is

lowest, is composed of an extremely
dense form of iron.
Another important characteristic of
neutron stars is the presence of very
strong magnetic fields, upwards of 1012
Gauss (Earth’s magnetic field is 0.5
Gauss), which causes the surface iron to
be polymerized in the form of long chains
of iron atoms. The individual atoms
become compressed and elongated in the
Geminga pulsar, imaged in X-ray wave- direction of the magnetic field and can
lengths by the Earth-orbiting XMM-Newton bind together end-to-end. Below the sur-
X-ray Observatory. The pair of bright X-ray face, the pressure becomes much too
“tails” outline the edges of a cone-shaped high for individual atoms to exist.
shock wave produced by the pulsar as it The discovery of pulsars provided
moves through space nearly perpendicular the first evidence of the existence of neu-
to the line of sight (from lower right to upper tron stars. Pulsars are neutron stars that
left in the image). European Space Agency
emit pulses of radiation once per rota-
tion. The radiation emitted is usually
neutrons. Neutron stars are typically radio waves. However, some objects are
about 20 km (12 miles) in diameter. Their known to give off short rhythmic bursts
masses range between 1.18 and 1.44 times of visible light, X-rays, and gamma radia-
that of the Sun, but most are 1.35 times that tion as well, and others are “radio-quiet”
of the Sun. Thus, their mean densities are and emit only at X- or gamma-ray wave-
extremely high—about 1014 times that of lengths. The very short periods of, for
water. This approximates the density example, the Crab (NP 0532) and Vela
inside the atomic nucleus, and in some pulsars (33 and 83 milliseconds, respec-
ways a neutron star can be conceived of tively) rule out the possibility that they
as a gigantic nucleus. might be white dwarfs. The pulses result
It is not known definitively what is at from electrodynamic phenomena gener-
the centre of the star, where the pressure ated by their rotation and their strong
is greatest; theories include hyperons, magnetic fields, as in a dynamo. In the
kaons, pions, and strange quark matter. case of radio pulsars, neutrons at the sur-
The intermediate layers are mostly neu- face of the star decay into protons and
trons and are probably in a “superfluid” electrons. As these charged particles are
state. The outer 1 km (0.6 mile) is solid, in released from the surface, they enter the
spite of the high temperatures, which can intense magnetic field (1012 Gauss; Earth’s
be as high as 1,000,000 K. The surface of magnetic field is 0.5 Gauss) that
106 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

surrounds the star and rotates along J1748−2446ad, it has a period of 1.396 mil-
with it. Accelerated to speeds approach- liseconds, which corresponds to a spin rate
ing that of light, the particles give off of 716 times per second. These spin rates
electromagnetic radiation by synchro- are close to the theoretical limit for a
tron emission. This radiation is released pulsar because a neutron star rotating
as intense radio beams from the pulsar’s only about four times faster would fly
magnetic poles. apart as a result of “centrifugal force” at its
These magnetic poles do not coin- equator, notwithstanding a gravitational
cide with the rotational poles, and so the pull so strong that the star’s escape veloc-
rotation of the pulsar swings the radia- ity is about half the speed of light.
tion beams around. As the beams sweep These fast pulsars are known as mil-
regularly past Earth with each complete lisecond pulsars. They form in supernovae
rotation, an evenly spaced series of pulses like slower rotating pulsars; however,
is detected by ground-based telescopes. millisecond pulsars often occur in binary
Antony Hewish and Jocelyn Bell, star systems. After the supernova, the
astronomers working at the University of neutron star accretes matter from its com-
Cambridge, first discovered pulsars in panion, causing the pulsar to spin faster.
1967 with the aid of a radio telescope Careful timing of radio pulsars shows
specially designed to record very rapid that they are slowing down very gradu-
fluctuations in radio sources. Subsequent ally at a rate of typically a millionth of a
searches have resulted in the detection of second per year. The ratio of a pulsar’s
about 2,000 pulsars. A significant per- present period to the average slow-down
centage of these objects are concentrated rate gives some indication of its age. This
toward the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy, so-called characteristic, or timing, age
the enormous galactic system in which can be in close agreement with the actual
Earth is located. age. For example, the Crab Pulsar, which
Although all known pulsars exhibit was formed during a supernova explo-
similar behaviour, they show consider- sion observed in 1054 CE, has a
able variation in the length of their characteristic age of 1,240 years; however,
periods—i.e., the intervals between suc- pulsar J0205+6449, which was formed
cessive pulses. The period of the slowest during a supernova in 1181 CE, has a
pulsar so far observed is about 11.8 seconds characteristic age of 5,390 years.
in duration. The pulsar designated PSR Because pulsars slow down so gradu-
J1939+2134 was the fastest-known for ally, they are very accurate clocks. Since
more than two decades. Discovered in pulsars also have strong gravitational
1982, it has a period of 0.00155 second, or fields, this accuracy can be used to test
1.55 milliseconds, which means it is spin- theories of gravity. American physicists
ning 642 times per second. In 2006 an Joseph Taylor and Russell Hulse won the
even faster one was reported; known as Nobel Prize for Physics in 1993 for their
Star Formation and Evolution | 107

study of timing variations in the pulsar Pulsars also experience much more
PSR 1913+16. PSR 1913+16 has a companion drastic period changes, which are called
neutron star with which it is locked in a glitches, in which the period suddenly
tight orbit. The two stars’ enormous inter- increases and then gradually decreases
acting gravitational fields affect the to its pre-glitch value. Some glitches are
regularity of the radio pulses, and by tim- caused by “starquakes,” or sudden cracks
ing these and analyzing their variations, in the rigid iron crust of the star. Others
Taylor and Hulse found that the stars were are caused by an interaction between the
rotating ever faster around each other in crust and the more fluid interior. Usually
an increasingly tight orbit. This orbital the interior is loosely coupled to the crust,
decay is presumed to occur because the so the crust can slow down relative to the
system is losing energy in the form of interior. However, sometimes the coupling
gravity waves. This was the first experi- between the crust and interior becomes
mental evidence for the existence of the stronger, spinning up the pulsar and
gravitational waves predicted by Albert causing a glitch.
Einstein in his general theory of relativity. Some X-ray pulsars are “accreting”
Some pulsars, such as the Crab and pulsars. These pulsars are in binaries; the
Vela pulsars, are losing rotational energy neutron star accretes material from its
so precipitously that they also emit radia- companion. This material flows to the
tion of shorter wavelength. The Crab magnetic polar caps, where it releases
Pulsar appears in optical photographs as X-rays. Another class of X-ray pulsars is
a moderately bright (magnitude 16) star called “anomalous.” These pulsars have
in the centre of the Crab Nebula. Soon periods of more than five seconds, some-
after the detection of its radio pulses in times give off bursts of X-rays, and are
1968, astronomers at the Steward Observ­ often associated with supernova rem-
atory in Arizona found that visible light nants. These pulsars arise from highly
from the Crab Pulsar flashes at exactly magnetized neutron stars, or magnetars,
the same rate. The star also produces reg- which have a magnetic field of between
ular pulses of X-rays and gamma rays. 1014 and 1015 Gauss. (The magnetars also
The Vela Pulsar is much fainter at optical have been identified with another class of
wavelengths (average magnitude 24) and objects, the soft gamma-ray repeaters,
was observed in 1977 during a particu- which give off bursts of gamma rays.)
larly sensitive search with the large Some pulsars emit only in gamma
Anglo-Australian Telescope situated at rays. In 2008 the Fermi Gamma-ray Space
Parkes, Australia. It also pulses at X-ray Telescope discovered the first such pul-
wavelengths. The Vela Pulsar does, how- sar within the supernova remnant CTA 1;
ever, give off gamma rays in regular since then, it has found 11 others. Unlike
pulses and is the most intense source of radio pulsars, the gamma-ray emission
such radiation in the sky. does not come from the particle beams at
108 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the poles but arises far from the neutron inward upon itself. The crushing weight
star surface. The precise physical process of constituent matter falling in from all
that generates the gamma-ray pulses is sides compresses the dying star to a point
unknown. of zero volume and infinite density called
Many binary X-ray sources, such as the singularity. Details of the structure of
Hercules X-1, contain neutron stars. a black hole are calculated from Albert
Cosmic objects of this kind emit X-rays by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The
compression of material from companion singularity constitutes the centre of a
stars accreted onto their surfaces. black hole and is hidden by the object’s
Neutron stars are also seen as objects “surface,” the event horizon. Inside the
called rotating radio transients (RRATs) event horizon the escape velocity (i.e.,
and as magnetars. The RRATs are sources the velocity required for matter to
that emit single radio bursts but at irreg- escape from the gravitational field of a
ular intervals ranging from four minutes cosmic object) exceeds the speed of light,
to three hours. The cause of the RRAT so that not even rays of light can escape
phenomenon is unknown. Magnetars are into space.
highly magnetized neutron stars that The radius of the event horizon is
have a magnetic field of between 1014 and called the Schwarzschild radius, after the
1015 Gauss. German astronomer Karl Schwarzschild,
Most investigators believe that neu- who in 1916 predicted the existence of
tron stars are formed by supernova collapsed stellar bodies that emit no radi-
explosions in which the collapse of the ation. The Schwarzschild radius (Rg) of an
central core of the supernova is halted by object of mass M is given by the follow-
rising neutron pressure as the core den- ing formula, in which G is the universal
sity increases to about 1015 grams per gravitational constant and c is the speed
cubic cm. If the collapsing core is more of light:
massive than about three solar masses,
however, a neutron star cannot be formed, Rg = 2GM/c2.
and the core would presumably become a
black hole. The size of the Schwarzschild radius is
proportional to the mass of the collapsing
Black Holes star. For a black hole with a mass 10 times
as great as that of the Sun, the radius
A black hole can be formed by the death would be 30 km (18.6 miles).
of a massive star that exceeds about two Black holes cannot be observed
solar masses. When such a star has directly on account of both their small
exhausted its internal thermonuclear size and the fact that they emit no light.
fuels at the end of its life, it becomes They can be “observed,” however, by the
unstable and gravitationally collapses effects of their enormous gravitational
Star Formation and Evolution | 109

fields on nearby matter. For example, if a Sagittarius A* demonstrated the presence

black hole is a member of a binary star of a black hole with a mass equivalent to
system, matter flowing into it from its 4,310,000 Suns.
companion becomes intensely heated Supermassive black holes have been
and then radiates X-rays copiously before seen in other galaxies as well. In 1994 the
entering the event horizon of the black Hubble Space Telescope provided con-
hole and disappearing forever. One of clusive evidence for the existence of a
the component stars of the binary X-ray supermassive black hole at the centre of
system Cygnus X-1 is a black hole. the M87 galaxy. It has a mass equal to two
Discovered in 1971 in the constellation to three billion Suns but is no larger than
Cygnus, this binary consists of a blue the solar system. The black hole’s exis-
supergiant and an invisible companion tence can be inferred from its energetic
8.7 times the mass of the Sun that revolve effects on an envelope of gas swirling
about one another in a period of 5.6 days. around it at extremely high velocities.
Some black holes apparently have The existence of another kind of
nonstellar origins. Various astronomers nonstellar black hole has been proposed
have speculated that large volumes of by the British astrophysicist Stephen
interstellar gas collect and collapse into Hawking. According to Hawking’s theory,
supermassive black holes at the centres numerous tiny primordial black holes,
of quasars and galaxies. A mass of gas possibly with a mass equal to that of an
falling rapidly into a black hole is esti- asteroid or less, might have been created
mated to give off more than 100 times as during the big bang, a state of extremely
much energy as is released by the identi- high temperatures and density in which
cal amount of mass through nuclear the universe is thought to have origi-
fusion. Accordingly, the collapse of mil- nated 13.7 billion years ago. These
lions or billions of solar masses of so-called mini black holes, like the more
interstellar gas under gravitational force massive variety, lose mass over time
into a large black hole would account for through Hawking radiation and disap-
the enormous energy output of quasars pear. If certain theories of the universe
and certain galactic systems. One such that require extra dimensions are correct,
supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, the Large Hadron Collider (the world’s
exists at the centre of the Milky Way most powerful particle accelerator) could
Galaxy. In 2005, infrared observations of produce significant numbers of mini
stars orbiting around the position of black holes.
Star Clusters

O ur Sun is not part of a multiple star system. It floats

alone in space, serene and solitary. However, many stars
can be found in groups called star clusters. There are two
general types of these stellar assemblages. They are held
together by the mutual gravitational attraction of their
members, which are physically related through common
origin. The two types are open (formerly called galactic)
clusters and globular clusters.


Open clusters contain from a dozen to many hundreds of

stars, usually in an unsymmetrical arrangement. By contrast,
globular clusters are old systems containing thousands to
hundreds of thousands of stars closely packed in a symmet-
rical, roughly spherical form. In addition, groups called
associations, made up of a few dozen to hundreds of stars of
similar type and common origin whose density in space is
less than that of the surrounding field, are also recognized.
Four open clusters have been known from earliest times:
the Pleiades and Hyades in the constellation Taurus, Praesepe
(the Beehive) in the constellation Cancer, and Coma
Berenices. The Pleiades was so important to some early
peoples that its rising at sunset determined the start of their
year. The appearance of the Coma Berenices cluster to the
Star Clusters | 111

NGC 6705, a rich cluster (left), and NGC 1508, a poor cluster (right). Courtesy of Lick
Observatory, University of California

naked eye led to the naming of its con- 1,000 open clusters. Probably about half
stellation for the hair of Berenice, wife of the known open clusters contain fewer
Ptolemy Euergetes of Egypt (3rd century than 100 stars, but the richest have 1,000
BCE); it is the only constellation named or more. The largest have apparent diam-
after a historical figure. eters of several degrees, the diameter of
Open clusters are strongly concen- the Taurus cluster being 400 arc minutes
trated toward the Milky Way. They form a (nearly seven arc degrees) and that of the
flattened disklike system 2,000 light- Perseus cluster being 240 arc minutes.
years thick, with a diameter of about The linear diameters range from the
30,000 light-years. The younger clusters largest, 75 light-years, down to 5 light-
serve to trace the spiral arms of the years. Increasingly, it has been found that
Galaxy, since they are found invariably to a large halo of actual cluster members
lie in them. Very distant clusters are hard surrounds the more-noticeable core and
to detect against the rich Milky Way extends the diameter severalfold. Cluster
background. A classification based on membership is established through com-
central concentration and richness is mon motion, common distances, and so
used and has been extended to nearly on. Tidal forces and stellar encounters
112 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

lead to the disintegration of open clusters have been detected with radio telescopes.
over long periods of time as stars “evapo- Many of the OB clusters mentioned
rate” from the cluster. above contain globules—relatively small,
Stars of all spectral classes from O to apparently spherical regions of absorb-
M (high to low temperatures) are found ing matter.
in open clusters, but the frequency of The most-numerous variables con-
types varies from one cluster to another, nected with young open clusters are the T
as does concentration near the centre. In Tauri type and related stars that occur by
some (O or OB clusters), the brightest the hundreds in some nebulous regions
stars are blue, very hot spectral types O of the sky. Conspicuously absent from
or B. In others, they are whitish yellow, open clusters is the type most common in
cooler spectral type F. High-luminosity globular clusters, the RR Lyrae stars.
stars are more common than in the solar Other variables include eclipsing binary
neighbourhood, and dwarfs are much stars (both Algol type and contact bina-
more scarce. The brightest stars in some ries), flare stars, and spectrum variables,
open clusters are 150,000 times as bright such as Pleione. The last-named star, one
as the Sun. The luminosity of the bright- of the Pleiades, is known to cast off
est stars at the upper end of the main shells of matter from time to time, perhaps
sequence varies in clusters from about −8 as a result of its high rotational speed (up
to −2 visual magnitude. (Visual magni- to 322 km/sec [20 miles/sec]). About two
tude is a magnitude measured through a dozen open clusters are known to contain
yellow filter, the term arising because the Population I Cepheids, and since the dis-
eye is most sensitive to yellow light.) tances of these clusters can be determined
Because of the high luminosity of accurately, the absolute magnitudes of
their brightest stars, some open clusters those Cepheids are well-determined. This
have a total luminosity as bright as that has been of paramount importance in
of some globular clusters (absolute mag- calibrating the period-luminosity relation
nitude of −8), which contain thousands of for Cepheids, and thus in determining
times as many stars. In the centre of rich the distance scale of the universe.
clusters, the stars may be only one light- The colour- or spectrum-magnitude
year apart. The density can be 100 times diagram derived from the individual
that of the solar neighbourhood. In some, stars holds vital information. Colour-
such as the Pleiades and the Orion clus- magnitude diagrams are available for
ters, nebulosity is a prominent feature, about 200 clusters on the UBV photo-
while others have none. In clusters metric system, in which colour is
younger than 25 million years, masses of measured from the amount of light radi-
neutral hydrogen extending over three ated by the stars in the ultraviolet, blue,
times the optical diameter of the cluster and visual (yellow) wavelength regions.
Star Clusters | 113

In young clusters, stars are found along pronounced. The apparent convergence
the luminous bright blue branch, whereas is caused by perspective: the cluster
in old clusters, beyond a turnoff only a members are really moving as a swarm in
magnitude or two brighter than the Sun, almost parallel directions and with about
they are red giants and supergiants. the same speeds. The Hyades is the most-
Distances can be determined by prominent example of a moving cluster.
many methods—geometric, photometric, (The Hyades stars are converging with a
and spectroscopic—with corrections for velocity of 45 km/sec (28 miles/sec)
interstellar absorption. For the very toward the point in the sky with position
nearest clusters, direct (trigonometric) coordinates right ascension 94 arc
parallaxes may be obtained, and these are degrees, declination +7.6 arc degrees.) The
inversely proportional to the distance. Ursa Major group, another moving cluster,
Distances can be derived from proper occupies a volume of space containing
motions, apparent magnitudes of the the Sun, but the Sun is not a member. The
brightest stars, and spectroscopically from cluster consists of a compact nucleus of
individual bright stars. Colour-magnitude 14 stars and an extended stream.
diagrams, fitted to a standard plot of the Stellar groups are composed of stars
main sequence, provide a common and presumed to have been formed together
reliable tool for determining distance. The in a batch, but the members are now too
nearest open cluster is the nucleus of the widely separated to be recognized as a
Ursa Major group at a distance of 65 light- cluster.
years; the farthest clusters are thousands Of all the open clusters, the Pleiades
of light-years away. is the best known and perhaps the most
Motions, including radial velocities thoroughly studied. This cluster, with a
and proper motion, have been measured diameter of 35 light-years at a distance of
for thousands of cluster stars. The radial 380 light-years, is composed of about 500
velocities of open cluster stars are much stars and is 100 million years old. Near
smaller than those of globular clusters, the Pleiades in the sky but not so conspic-
averaging tens of kilometres per second, uous, the Hyades is the second nearest
but their proper motions are larger. Open cluster at 150 light-years. Its stars are
clusters share in the galactic rotation. similar to those in the solar neighbour-
Used with galactic rotation formulas, the hood, and it is an older cluster (about 615
radial velocities provide another means million years in age). Measurements of
of distance determination. the Hyades long formed a basis for astro-
A few clusters are known as moving nomical determinations of distance and
clusters because the convergence of age because its thoroughly studied main
the proper motions of their individual sequence was used as a standard. The
stars toward a “convergent point” is higher-than-usual metal abundance in its
114 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

stars, however, complicated matters, and study of the distances and distributions
it is no longer favoured in this way. Coma of globular clusters, the American astron-
Berenices, located 290 light-years away, omer Harlow Shapley, then of the Mount
is an example of a “poor” cluster, contain- Wilson Observatory in California, deter-
ing only about 40 stars. There are some mined that its galactic centre lies in the
extremely young open clusters. Of these, Sagittarius region. In 1930, from measure-
the one associated with the Orion Nebula, ments of angular sizes and distribution
which is some 4 million years old, is the of open clusters, Robert J. Trumpler of
closest at a distance of 1,400 light-years. Lick Observatory in California showed
A still younger cluster is NGC 6611, some that light is absorbed as it travels through
of the stars in which formed only a few many parts of space.
hundred thousand years ago. At the other More than 150 globular clusters were
end of the scale, some open clusters have known in the Milky Way Galaxy by the
ages approaching those of the globular early years of the 21st century. Most are
clusters. M67 in the constellation Cancer widely scattered in galactic latitude, but
is 4.5 billion years old, and NGC 188 in about a third of them are concentrated
Cepheus is 6.5 billion years of age. The around the galactic centre, as satellite
oldest known open cluster, Collinder 261 systems in the rich Sagittarius-Scorpius
in the southern constellation of Musca, is star fields. Individual cluster masses
8.9 billion years old. include up to one million suns, and their
linear diameters can be several hundred
Globular Clusters light-years; their apparent diameters
range from one degree for Omega
Though several globular clusters, such Centauri down to knots of one minute of
as Omega Centauri and Messier 13 in arc. In a cluster such as M3, 90 percent
the constellation Hercules, are visible of the light is contained within a diam-
to the unaided eye as hazy patches of eter of 100 light-years, but star counts
light, attention was paid to them only and the study of RR Lyrae member stars
after the invention of the telescope. The (whose intrinsic brightness varies regu-
first record of a globular cluster, in the larly within well-known limits) include a
constellation Sagittarius, dates to 1665 (it larger one of 325 light-years. The clusters
was later named Messier 22); the next, differ markedly in the degree to which
Omega Centauri, was recorded in 1677 stars are concentrated at their centres.
by the English astronomer and mathe- Most of them appear circular and are
matician Edmund Halley. probably spherical, but a few (e.g., Omega
Investigations of globular and open Centauri) are noticeably elliptical. The
clusters greatly aided the understanding most elliptical cluster is M19, its major
of the Milky Way Galaxy. In 1917, from a axis being about double its minor axis.
Star Clusters | 115

Globular clusters are composed of upper limit on the amount of neutral

Population II objects (i.e., old stars). The hydrogen in globular clusters. Dark lanes
brightest stars are the red giants, bright of nebulous matter are puzzling features
red stars with an absolute magnitude of in some of these clusters. Though it is
−2, about 600 times the Sun’s brightness difficult to explain the presence of dis-
or luminosity. In relatively few globular tinct, separate masses of unformed matter
clusters have stars as intrinsically faint as in old systems, the nebulosity cannot be
the Sun been measured, and in no such foreground material between the cluster
clusters have the faintest stars yet been and the observer.
recorded. The luminosity function for M3 About 2,000 variable stars are known
shows that 90 percent of the visual light in the 100 or more globular clusters that
comes from stars at least twice as bright have been examined. Of these, perhaps
as the Sun, but more than 90 percent of 90 percent are members of the class
the cluster mass is made up of fainter called RR Lyrae variables. Other variables
stars. The density near the centres of that occur in globular clusters are
globular clusters is roughly two stars per Population II Cepheids, RV Tauri, and U
cubic light-year, compared with one star Geminorum stars, as well as Mira stars,
per 300 cubic light-years in the solar neigh- eclipsing binaries, and novae.
bourhood. Studies of globular clusters have The colour of a star, as previously
shown a difference in spectral properties noted, has been found generally to corre-
from stars in the solar neighbourhood—a spond to its surface temperature, and in a
difference that proved to be due to a defi- somewhat similar way the type of spec-
ciency of metals in the clusters, which trum shown by a star depends on the
have been classified on the basis of degree of excitation of the light-radiating
increasing metal abundance. Globular atoms in it and therefore also on the tem-
cluster stars are between 2 and 300 times perature. All stars in a given globular
poorer in metals than stars like the Sun, cluster are, within a very small percentage
with the metal abundance being higher of the total distance, at equal distances
for clusters near the galactic centre than for from the Earth so that the effect of distance
those in the halo (the outermost reaches on brightness is common to all. Colour-
of the Galaxy extending far above and magnitude and spectrum-magnitude
below its plane). The amounts of other diagrams can thus be plotted for the stars
elements, such as helium, may also differ of a cluster, and the position of the stars
from cluster to cluster. The hydrogen in in the array, except for a factor that is the
cluster stars is thought to amount to 70–75 same for all stars, will be independent of
percent by mass, helium 25–30 percent, distance.
and the heavier elements 0.01–0.1 percent. In globular clusters all such arrays
Radio astronomical studies have set a low show a major grouping of stars along the
116 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

lower main sequence, with a giant branch coalescence of two lower mass stars in a
containing more-luminous stars curving “born-again” scenario that turned them
from there upward to the red and with a into a single, more-massive, and seemingly
horizontal branch starting about halfway younger star farther up the main sequence,
up the giant branch and extending toward although this does not fit all cases.
the blue. The other enigma is referred to as the
This basic picture was explained as “second parameter” problem. Apart from
owing to differences in the courses of evo- the obvious effect of age, the shape and
lutionary change that stars with similar extent of the various sequences in a glob-
compositions but different masses would ular cluster’s colour-magnitude diagram
follow after long intervals of time. The are governed by the abundance of metals
absolute magnitude at which the brighter in the chemical makeup of the cluster’s
main-sequence stars leave the main members. This is the “first parameter.”
sequence (the turnoff point, or “knee”) is Nevertheless, there are cases in which
a measure of the age of the cluster, assum- two clusters, seemingly almost identical in
ing that most of the stars formed at the age and metal abundance, show horizontal
same time. Globular clusters in the Milky branches that are quite different—one
Way Galaxy prove to be nearly as old as may be short and stubby, and the other may
the universe, averaging perhaps 14 billion extend far toward the blue. There is thus
years in age and ranging between evidently another, as-yet-unidentified
approximately 12 billion and 16 billion parameter involved. Stellar rotation has
years, although these figures continue to been mooted as a possible second param-
be revised. RR Lyrae variables, when eter, but that now seems unlikely.
present, lie in a special region of the Integrated magnitudes (measurements
colour-magnitude diagram called the RR of the total brightness of the cluster), clus-
Lyrae gap, near the blue end of the hori- ter diameters, and the mean magnitude
zontal branch in the diagram. of the 25 brightest stars made possible
Two features of globular cluster the first distance determinations on the
colour-magnitude diagrams remain enig- basis of the assumption that the apparent
matic. The first is the so-called “blue differences were due entirely to distance.
straggler” problem. Blue stragglers are The colour-magnitude diagram, or the
stars located near the lower main apparent magnitudes of the RR Lyrae
sequence, although their temperature variables, however, leads to the best dis-
and mass indicate that they already tance estimates. The correction factor for
should have evolved off the main interstellar reddening, which is caused by
sequence, like the great majority of other the presence of intervening matter that
such stars in the cluster. A possible expla- absorbs and reddens stellar light, is sub-
nation is that a blue straggler is the stantial for many globular clusters but
Star Clusters | 117

small for those in high galactic latitudes, types of RR Lyrae stars were first distin-
away from the plane of the Milky Way. guished in 1902. Omega Centauri is
Distances range from about 8,000 light- relatively nearby, at a distance of 16,000
years for NGC 6397 to an intergalactic light-years, and it lacks a sharp nucleus.
distance of 390,000 light-years for the The cluster designated 47 Tucanae (NGC
cluster called AM-1. 104), with an absolute visual magnitude
The radial velocities (the speed at of −9.3 at a similar distance of 13,500
which objects approach or recede from an light-years, has a different appearance
observer, taken as positive when the dis- with strong central concentration. It is
tance is increasing) measured by the located near the Small Magellanic Cloud
Doppler effect have been determined but is not connected with it. For an
from integrated spectra for some 138 observer situated at the centre of this
globular clusters. The largest negative great cluster, the sky would have the
velocity is 384 km/sec (239 miles/sec) for brightness of twilight on the Earth
NGC 7006, while the largest positive because of the light of the thousands of
velocity is 494 km/sec (307 miles/sec) for stars nearby. In the Northern Hemisphere,
NGC 3201. These velocities suggest M13 in the constellation Hercules is the
that the globular clusters are moving easiest to see and is the best known. At a
around the galactic centre in highly ellip- distance of 22,000 light-years, it has been
tical orbits. The globular cluster system thoroughly investigated and is relatively
as a whole has a rotational velocity of poor in variables. M3 in Canes Venatici,
about 180 km/s relative to the Sun, or 32,000 light-years away, is the cluster
30 km/s on an absolute basis. For one second richest in variables, with well
cluster, Omega Centauri, motions of the more than 200 known. Investigation of
individual stars around the massive cen- these variables resulted in the placement
tre have actually been observed and of the RR Lyrae stars in a special region of
measured. Though proper motions of the the colour-magnitude diagram.
clusters are very small, those for individ-
ual stars provide a useful criterion for OB and T Associations
cluster membership.
The two globular clusters of highest The discovery of stellar associations
absolute luminosity are in the Southern depended on knowledge of the character-
Hemisphere in the constellations Centau­ istics and motions of individual stars
rus and Tucana. Omega Centauri, with an scattered over a substantial area. In the
(integrated) absolute visual magnitude 1920s it was noticed that young, hot blue
of −10.2, is the richest cluster in variables, stars (spectral types O and B) apparently
with nearly 300 known in the early 21st congregated together. In 1949 Victor A.
century. From this large group, three Ambartsumian, a Soviet astronomer,
118 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

suggested that these stars are members frequently contain a special type of mul-
of physical groupings of stars with a com- tiple star, the Trapezium (named for its
mon origin and named them O prototype in Orion), as well as super-
associations (or OB associations, as they giants, binaries, gaseous nebulae, and
are often designated today). He also globules. Associations are relatively
applied the term T associations to groups homogeneous in age. The best distance
of dwarf, irregular T Tauri variable stars, determinations are from spectroscopic
which were first noted at Mount Wilson parallaxes of individual stars—i.e., esti-
Observatory by Alfred Joy. mates of their absolute magnitudes made
The chief distinguishing feature of from studies of their spectra. Most of
the members of a stellar association is those known are closer than 10,000 light-
that the large majority of constituent stars years, with the nearest association,
have similar physical characteristics. An straddling the boundary between
OB association consists of many hot, blue Centaurus and Crux, at 385 light-years.
giant stars, spectral classes O and B, and Associations appear to be almost
a relatively small number of other objects. spherical, though rapid elongation would
A T association consists of cooler dwarf be expected from the shearing effect of
stars, many of which exhibit irregular differential galactic rotation. Expansion,
variations in brightness. The stars clearly which is on the order of 10 km/sec (6 miles/
must be relatively close to each other in sec), may well mask the tendency to elon-
space, though in some cases they might gate, and this is confirmed in some. Tidal
be widely dispersed in the sky and are forces break up an association in less than
less closely placed than in the open 10 million years through differences in the
clusters. attraction by an outside body on members
The existence of an OB association is in different parts of the association.
usually established through a study of A good example of an OB association
the space distribution of early O- and is Per OB 1 at a distance of some 7,500
B-type stars. It appears as a concentra- light-years, which spreads out from the
tion of points in a three-dimensional plot double cluster h and χ Persei. A large
of galactic longitude and latitude and group of 20 supergiant stars of spectral
distance. More than 70 have been cata- type M belongs to Per OB 1. Associations
loged and are designated by constellation with red supergiants may be in a relatively
abbreviation and number (e.g., Per OB 1 advanced evolutionary stage, almost ready
in the constellation Perseus). In terms of to disintegrate.
dimensions, they are larger than open The T associations (short for T Tauri
clusters, ranging from 100 to 700 light- associations) are formed by groups of T
years in diameter, and usually contain Tauri stars associated with the clouds of
one or more open clusters as nuclei. They interstellar matter (nebulae) in which
Star Clusters | 119

they occur. About three dozen are recog- globular clusters dotted around it. The
nized. A T Tauri star is characterized by richest parts of the spiral arms of the pin-
irregular variations of light, low luminos- wheel would be marked by dozens of
ity, and hydrogen line (H-alpha) emission. open clusters. If this panorama could be
It is a newly formed star of intermediate seen as a time-lapse movie, the great
mass that is still in the process of contrac- globular clusters would wheel around the
tion from diffuse matter. The small galactic centre in elliptical orbits with
motions of T Tauri stars relative to a periods of hundreds of millions of years.
given nebula indicate that they are not The open clusters and stellar associa-
field stars passing through the nebula. tions would be seen to form out of knots
They are found in greatest numbers in of diffuse matter in the spiral arms, grad-
regions with bright O- and B-type stars. ually disperse, run through their life cycle,
T associations occur only in or near and fade away, while the Sun pursued its
regions of galactic nebulosity, either course around the galactic centre for
bright or dark, and only in obscured billions of years.
regions showing the presence of dust. Young open clusters and associations,
Besides T Tauri stars, they include related occupying the same region of space as
variables, nonvariable stars, and Herbig- clouds of ionized hydrogen (gaseous
Haro objects—small nebulosities 10,000 nebulae), help to define the spiral arms. A
astronomical units in diameter, each con- concentration of clusters in the bright
taining several starlike condensations in inner portion of the Milky Way between
configurations similar to the Trapezium, galactic longitudes 283° and 28° indicates
Theta Orionis, in the sword of Orion. an inner arm in Sagittarius. Similarly, the
These objects are considered to be star two spiral arms of Orion and Perseus are
groups at the very beginning of life. defined between 103° and 213°, with a
The constellation of Cygnus has five bifurcation of the Orion arm. Associations
T associations, and Orion and Taurus show the existence of spiral structure in
have four each. The richest is Ori T2, with the Sun’s vicinity. Older clusters, whose
more than 400 members; it has a diameter main sequence does not reach to the blue
of 50 by 90 light-years and lies at a dis- stars, show no correlation with spiral
tance of 1,300 light-years around the arms because in the intervening years
variable star T Ori. their motions have carried them far
from their place of birth.
Dynamics of star clusters All the O- and B-type stars in the
Galaxy might have originated in OB
Seen from intergalactic space, the Milky associations. The great majority, if not all,
Way Galaxy would appear as a giant of the O-type stars were formed and still
luminous pinwheel, with more than 150 exist in clusters and associations. Though
120 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

only 10 percent of the total number of merge with larger ones that do not neces-
B-type stars are now in OB associations sarily have the same properties. This has
or clusters, it is likely that all formed in complicated the picture of chemical evo-
them. At the other (fainter) end of the lution. The case of the globular cluster
range of stellar luminosities, the number Omega Centauri suggests this merging
of dwarf variable stars in the nearby T also may happen on smaller scales. Its
associations is estimated at 12,000. These stars are unusual, perhaps unique, in
associations are apparently the main having a variety of chemical composi-
source of low-luminosity stars in the tions, as though they came from more
neighbourhood of the Sun. than one earlier cluster.
While large numbers of associations In a study of star clusters, a time
have formed and dispersed and provided a panorama unfolds—from the oldest
population of stars for the spiral arms, the objects existing in the Galaxy, the globu-
globular clusters have survived relatively lar clusters, through clusters in existence
unchanged except for the evolutionary only half as long, to extremely young
differences that time brings. They are too open clusters and associations that have
massive to be disrupted by the tidal forces come into being since humans first trod
of the Galaxy, though their limiting dimen- the Earth.
sions are set by these forces when they
most closely approach the galactic centre. Clusters in external
Impressive as they are individually, their galaxies
total mass of 10 million suns is small com-
pared with the mass of the Galaxy as a The study of clusters in external galaxies
whole—only about 1/10,000. Their sub- began in 1847, when Sir John Herschel at
stance is that of the Galaxy in a very early the Cape Observatory (in what is now
stage. The Galaxy probably collapsed from South Africa) published lists of such
a gaseous cloud composed almost entirely objects in the nearest galaxies, the
of hydrogen and helium. About 14 billion Magellanic Clouds. During the 20th cen-
years ago, before the last stages of the tury the identification of clusters was
collapse, matter forming the globular extended to more remote galaxies by the
clusters may have separated from the use of large reflectors and other more
rest. The fact that metal-rich clusters are specialized instruments, including
near the galactic nucleus while metal- Schmidt telescopes.
poor clusters are in the halo or outer Clusters have been discovered and
fringes may indicate a nonuniform dis- studied in many external galaxies, par-
tribution of elements throughout the ticularly members of the Local Group (a
primordial mass. However, there is evi- group of about 40 stellar systems to which
dence that galaxies are given to the Galaxy belongs). At their great dis-
cannibalism, in which smaller galaxies tances classification is difficult, but it has
Star Clusters | 121

been accomplished from studies of the 122 associations with a mean diameter of
colours of the light from an entire cluster 250 light-years, somewhat richer and
(integrated colours) or, for relatively few, larger than in the Galaxy. Sixteen of the
from colour-magnitude diagrams. associations contain coexistent clusters.
Clusters have been found by the hun- Also, 15 star clouds (aggregations of
dreds in some of the nearest galaxies. At many thousands of stars dispersed over
the distance of the Magellanic Clouds, a hundreds or even thousands of light-
cluster like the Pleiades would appear as years) are recognized.
a faint 15th magnitude object, subtend- In the great Andromeda spiral galaxy
ing 15 seconds of arc instead of several (M31) some 2.2 million light-years away,
degrees. Nevertheless, it is estimated that about 500 globular clusters are known.
the Small Magellanic Cloud, at a distance Colour studies of some of these clusters
of 200,000 light-years, contains about reveal that they have a higher metal con-
2,000 open clusters. In the Large tent than globular clusters of the Galaxy.
Magellanic Cloud, at a distance of 163,000 Nearly 200 OB associations are known,
light-years, over 1,200 of an estimated with distances up to 80,000 light-years
4,200 have been cataloged. Most of them from the nucleus. The diameters of their
are young blue-giant open clusters such dense cores are comparable to those of
as NGC 330 and NGC 1866. The open galactic associations. NGC 206 (OB 78) is
clusters contain some Cepheid variables the richest star cloud in M31, having a total
and in chemical composition are similar mass of 200,000 suns and bearing a strong
to, but not exactly the same as, those of resemblance to the double cluster in
the Galaxy. The globular clusters fall into Perseus. Some globular clusters have been
two distinct groups. Those of the first found around the dwarf elliptical compan-
group, the red, have a large metal defi- ions to M31, NGC 185, and NGC 205.
ciency similar to the globular clusters in M33 in the constellation Triangulum—a
the Galaxy, and some are known to con- spiral galaxy with thick, loose arms (an
tain RR Lyrae variables. The globular Sc system in the Hubble classification
clusters of the second group are large and scheme)—has about 300 known clusters,
circular in outline, with colours much not many of which have globular charac-
bluer than normal galactic globular clus- teristics. Of the six dwarf spheroidal
ters and with ages of about one million to galaxies in the Local Group, only the one
one billion years. They are similar to the in the constellation Fornax has clusters.
open clusters of the Magellanic Clouds Its five globular clusters are similar to the
but are very populous. The observed dif- bluest globular clusters of the Gal­axy. No
ferences between clusters in the Galaxy clusters have been discovered in the irreg-
and the Magellanic Clouds result from ular galaxies NGC 6822 and IC 1613.
small differences in helium or heavy- Beyond the Local Group, at a distance
element abundances. There are at least of 45 million light-years, the giant
122 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

elliptical galaxy M87 in the Virgo cluster astronomers announced the detection of a
of galaxies is surrounded by an estimated planet orbiting it. The extrasolar planet is
13,000 globular star clusters. Inspection not visible from Earth, but its presence
of other elliptical galaxies in Virgo shows was deduced from the wobble that its grav-
that they too have globular clusters ity induces in the parent star’s motion in a
whose apparent magnitudes are similar 4.23-day cycle. It has a mass 47 percent
to those in M87, though their stellar that of Jupiter and orbits surprisingly
population is substantially smaller. It close (7.8 million km [4.8 million miles]) to
appears that the mean absolute magni- the star—much closer than Mercury, which
tudes of globular clusters are constant orbits the Sun at a distance of 57.9 million
and independent of the absolute lumi- km (35.9 million miles).
nosity of the parent galaxy.
The total number of clusters now Alpha Centauri
known in external galaxies far exceeds the
number known in the Milky Way system. Alpha Centauri is a triple star, the faint-
est component of which, Proxima
Notable stars and Centauri, is the closest star to the Sun, at
star clusters about 4.2 light-years’ distance. The two
brighter components, about 1/5 light-year
Of the billions of stars and star clusters farther from the Sun, revolve around each
in the universe, some have stood out other with a period of about 80 years,
among the rest for a variety of reasons.In while Proxima may be circling them with
the section that follows, greater detail is a period probably of 500,000 years. The
presented on many of those that have brightest component star resembles the
distinguished themselves as distinctive Sun in spectral type, diameter, and abso-
objects in the sky or in the history of lute magnitude. Its apparent visual
astronomy itself. magnitude is 0.0. The second brightest
component, of visual magnitude 1.4, is a
51 Pegasi redder star. The third component, of 11th
magnitude, is a red dwarf star.
The fifth-magnitude star 51 Pegasi is As seen from Earth, the system is
located 48 light-years away from Earth in the fourth brightest star (after Sirius,
the constellation Pegasus and was the first Canopus, and Arcturus); the red dwarf
sunlike star confirmed to possess a planet. Proxima is invisible to the unaided eye.
51 Pegasi, which has physical properties Alpha Centauri lies in the southern
(luminosity and temperature, for example) constellation Centaurus and can be
very similar to those of the Sun, became seen only from south of about 40° north
the focus of attention in 1995 when latitude.
Star Clusters | 123

Arcturus episodes of mass loss over the past 100,000

years. The largest of these shells has a
Arcturus (also called Alpha Boötis, ) is radius of nearly 7.5 light-years.
one of the five brightest stars in the night
sky and the brightest star in the northern Deneb
constellation Boötes, with an apparent
visual magnitude of −0.05. It is an orange- Deneb, which is also called Alpha Cygni,
coloured giant star 36.7 light-years from is one of the brightest stars, with an
Earth. It lies in an almost direct line with apparent magnitude of 1.25. Its name is
the tail of Ursa Major (the Great Bear); Arabic for “tail” (of the Swan, Cygnus).
hence its name, derived from the Greek This star, at about 1,500 light-years’ dis-
words for “bear guard.” tance, is the most remote (and brightest
intrinsically) of the 20 apparently bright-
Betelgeuse est stars. It lies in the northern
constellation Cygnus and, with Vega and
Betelgeuse, or Alpha Orionis, is the Altair, forms the prominent “Summer
brightest star in the constellation Orion, Triangle.”
marking the eastern shoulder of the hunter.
Its name is derived from the Arabic word Fomalhaut
bat al-dshauzâ, which means “the giant’s
shoulder.” Betelgeuse has a variable Fomalhaut, or Alpha Piscis Austrini, is
apparent magnitude of about 0.6 and is the 17th star (in order of apparent bright-
one of the most luminous stars in the ness). It is used in navigation because of
night sky. It is easily discernible to even its conspicuous place in a sky region oth-
the casual observer, not only because of erwise lacking in bright stars. It lies in
its brightness and position in the bril- the southern constellation Piscis
liant Orion but also because of its Austrinus, 25 light-years from Earth. A
deep-reddish colour. The star is approxi- white star, it has an apparent magnitude
mately 640 light-years from Earth. of 1.16. A sixth-magnitude companion
Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star star, HR 8721, is yellow and orbits at a dis-
roughly 950 times as large as the Sun, tance of about 0.9 light-year. A belt of
making it one of the largest stars known. dust orbits between 19.9 and 23.6 billion
For comparison, the diameter of Mars’s km (12.4 and 14.7 billion miles) from the
orbit around the Sun is 328 times the star. Images taken with the Hubble Space
Sun’s diameter. Infrared studies from Telescope in 2004 and 2006 showed a
spacecraft have revealed that Betelgeuse planet, Fomalhaut b, orbiting inside the
is surrounded by immense shells of mate- dust belt at a distance of 17.8 billion km
rial evidently shed by the star during (11.1 billion miles) from the star. These
124 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

material and more than 1,000 stars, of

which six or seven can be seen by the
unaided eye and have figured promi-
nently in the myths and literature of many
cultures. In Greek mythology the Seven
Sisters (Alcyone, Maia, Electra, Merope,
Taygete, Celaeno, and Sterope, names
now assigned to individual stars), daugh-
ters of Atlas and Pleione, were changed
into the stars. The heliacal (near dawn)
rising of the Pleiades in spring of the
Northern Hemisphere has marked from
ancient times the opening of seafaring
and farming seasons, as the morning
setting of the group in autumn signified
Bright nebulosity in the Pleiades (M45, NGC the seasons’ ends. Some South American
1432), distance 430 light-years. Cluster stars Indians use the same word for “Pleiades”
provide the light, and surrounding clouds of and “year.”
dust reflect and scatter the rays from the The cluster was first examined tele-
stars. Hale Observatories © 1961
scopically by Galileo, who found more
than 40 members; it was first photographed
by Paul and Prosper Henry in 1885.
were the first confirmed images of an
extrasolar planet. The planet has a mass Polaris
three times that of Jupiter and an orbital
period of 872 years. Polaris, which is also called Alpha Ursae
Fomalhaut was associated with the Minoris, is Earth’s present northern
Roman goddess Ceres (associated with polestar, or North Star. It can be found
the analogous Sicilian and Greek god- at the end of the “handle” of the so-called
dess Demeter) and was worshipped; in Little Dipper in the constellation Ursa
astrology it is one of four royal stars. Minor. Polaris is actually a triple star,
the brighter of two visual components
Pleiades being a spectroscopic binary with a
period of about 30 years and a Cepheid
The Pleiades (catalog number M45) is variable with a period of about 4 days. Its
an open cluster of young stars in the changes in brightness are too slight to
zodiacal constellation Taurus, about 430 be detected with the unaided eye.
light-years from the solar system. It con- Apparent visual magnitude of the Polaris
tains a large amount of bright nebulous system is 2.00.
Star Clusters | 125

Sirius than the Sun. Its distance from the solar

system is about 8.6 light-years, only twice
Sirius—which is also called Alpha Canis the distance of the nearest known star
Majoris, or the Dog Star—is the brightest beyond the Sun. Its name probably comes
star in the night sky, with apparent visual from a Greek word meaning “sparkling,”
magnitude of −1.44. It is a binary star in or “scorching.”
the constellation Canis Major. The bright Sirius was known as Sothis to the
component of the binary is a blue-white ancient Egyptians, who were aware that it
star 23 times as luminous as the Sun and made its first heliacal rising (i.e., rose just
somewhat larger and considerably hotter before sunrise) of the year at about the

Sirius A and B (lower left) photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA, ESA, H.
Bond (STScI), and M. Barstow (University of Leicester)
126 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

time the annual floods were beginning in eccentricity and with average separation
the Nile River delta. They long believed of the stars of about 20 times the Earth’s
that Sothis caused the Nile floods; and distance from the Sun. Despite the glare
they discovered that the heliacal rising of of the bright star, the seventh-magnitude
the star occurred at intervals of 365.25 companion is readily seen with a large
days rather than the 365 days of their telescope. This companion star, known
calendar year, a correction in the length as Sirius B, is about as massive as the
of the year that was later incorporated in Sun, though much more condensed, and
the Julian calendar. Among the ancient was the first white dwarf star to be
Romans, the hottest part of the year was discovered.
associated with the heliacal rising of the
Dog Star, a connection that survives in Vega
the expression “dog days.”
That Sirius is a binary star was first Vega, or Alpha Lyrae, is the brightest star
reported by the German astronomer in the northern constellation Lyra and
Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel in 1844. He had the fifth brightest in the night sky, with a
observed that the bright star was pursu- visual magnitude of 0.03. It is also one of
ing a slightly wavy course among its the Sun’s closer neighbours, at a distance
neighbours in the sky and concluded that of about 25 light-years. Vega’s spectral
it had a companion star, with which it type is A (white) and its luminosity class
revolved in a period of about 50 years. V (main sequence). It will become the
The companion was first seen in 1862 by northern polestar by about 14,000 CE
Alvan Clark, an American astronomer because of the precession of the equinoxes.
and telescope maker. Vega is surrounded by a disk of circums-
Sirius and its companion revolve tellar dust that may be similar to the solar
together in orbits of considerable system’s Kuiper Belt.

S cattered between the stars in interstellar space are various

tenuous clouds of gas and dust. These clouds are called
nebulae (Latin: “mist” or “cloud”). The term was formerly
applied to any object outside the solar system that had a dif-
fuse appearance rather than a pointlike image, as in the case
of a star. This definition, adopted at a time when very distant
objects could not be resolved into great detail, unfortunately
includes two unrelated classes of objects: the extragalactic
nebulae, the enormous collections of stars and gas now called
galaxies, and the galactic nebulae, which are composed of the
interstellar medium (the gas between the stars, with its
accompanying small solid particles) within a single galaxy.
Today, the term nebula generally refers exclusively to the
interstellar medium.
In a spiral galaxy the interstellar medium makes up 3
percent to 5 percent of the galaxy’s mass, but within a spiral
arm its mass fraction increases to about 20 percent. About 1
percent of the mass of the interstellar medium is in the form
of “dust”—small solid particles that are efficient in absorbing
and scattering radiation. Much of the rest of the mass within
a galaxy is concentrated in visible stars, but there is also some
form of dark matter that accounts for a substantial fraction of
the mass in the outer regions.
The most conspicuous property of interstellar gas is its
clumpy distribution on all size scales observed, from the
128 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The Cat’s Eye nebula. NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

size of the entire Milky Way Galaxy large-scale variations are seen by direct
(about 1020 metres, or hundreds of thou- observation; the small-scale variations
sands of light-years) down to the are observed by fluctuations in the inten-
distance from Earth to the Sun (about sity of radio waves, similar to the
1011 metres, or a few light-minutes). The “twinkling” of starlight caused by
Nebulae | 129

unsteadiness in the Earth’s atmosphere. together making up about two atoms per
Various regions exhibit an enormous thousand.
range of densities and temperatures. On the basis of appearance, nebulae
Within the Galaxy’s spiral arms about can be divided into two broad classes:
half the mass of the interstellar medium dark nebulae and bright nebulae. Dark
is concentrated in molecular clouds, in nebulae appear as irregularly shaped
which hydrogen occurs in molecular black patches in the sky and blot out the
form (H2) and temperatures are as low light of the stars that lie beyond them.
as 10 kelvins (K). These clouds are incon- They are very dense and cold molecular
spicuous optically and are detected clouds; they contain about half of all inter-
principally by their carbon monoxide stellar material. Typical densities range
(CO) emissions in the millimetre wave- from hundreds to millions (or more) of
length range. Their densities in the hydrogen molecules per cubic centime-
regions studied by CO emissions are typ- tre. These clouds are the sites where new
ically 1,000 H2 molecules per cubic cm stars are formed through the gravitational
(1 cubic cm = .06 cubic in). At the other collapse of some of their parts. Most of
extreme is the gas between the clouds, the remaining gas is in the diffuse inter-
with a temperature of 10 million K and a stellar medium, relatively inconspicuous
density of only 0.001 H+ ion per cubic cm. because of its very low density (about 0.1
Such gas is produced by supernovae, the hydrogen atom per cubic cm) but detect-
violent explosions of unstable stars. able by its radio emission of the 21-cm
line of neutral hydrogen.
Classes of nebulae Bright nebulae appear as faintly lumi-
nous glowing surfaces; they either emit
All nebulae observed in the Milky Way their own light or reflect the light of
Galaxy are forms of interstellar matter. nearby stars. They are comparatively
Their appearance differs widely, depend- dense clouds of gas within the diffuse
ing not only on the temperature and interstellar medium. They have several
density of the material observed but also subclasses: (1) reflection nebulae, (2) H II
on how the material is spatially situated regions, (3) diffuse ionized gas, (4)
with respect to the observer. Their planetary nebulae, and (5) supernova
chemical composition, however, is fairly remnants.
uniform. It corresponds to the composi- Reflection nebulae reflect the light of
tion of the universe in general in that a nearby star from their constituent dust
approximately 90 percent of the constitu- grains. The gas of reflection nebulae is
ent atoms are hydrogen and nearly all the cold, and such objects would be seen as
rest are helium, with oxygen, carbon, dark nebulae if it were not for the nearby
neon, nitrogen, and the other elements light source.
130 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

H II regions are clouds of hydrogen than the much more spectacular H II

ionized (separated into positive H+ ions regions, planetary nebulae, or supernova
and free electrons) by a neighbouring hot remnants that occupy a tiny fraction of
star. The star must be of stellar type O or the volume.
B, the most massive and hottest of nor- Planetary nebulae are ejected from
mal stars in the Galaxy, in order to stars that are dying but are not massive
produce enough of the radiation required enough to become supernovae—namely,
to ionize the hydrogen. red giant stars. That is to say, a red giant
Diffuse ionized gas, so pervasive has shed its outer envelope in a less-
among the nebular clouds, is a major violent event than a supernova explosion
component of the Galaxy. It is observed and has become an intensely hot star
by faint emissions of positive hydrogen, surrounded by a shell of material that
nitrogen, and sulfur ions (H+, N+, and S+) is expanding at a speed of tens of
detectable in all directions. These emis-
sions collectively require far more power

Planetary Nebula Hen 1357, as photo- A star-forming region in the Orion

graphed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Nebula (M42, NGC 1976). This compos-
Located about 18,000 light-years from ite image shows an area one light-year
Earth in the constellation Ara the Altar, square near the edge of a cavity of ion-
this expanding cloud of gas was ized hydrogen heated by ultraviolet
expelled from an aging star in the neb- radiation from a star cluster at the
ula’s centre. National Aeronautics and nebula’s centre. National Aeronautics
Space Administration and Space Administration
Nebulae | 131

kilometres per second. Planetary nebulae seeking. A by-product of their search was
typically appear as rather round objects the discovery of many bright nebulae.
of relatively high surface brightness. Several catalogs of special objects were
Their name is derived from their super- compiled by comet researchers; by far the
ficial resemblance to planets—i.e., their best known is that of the Frenchman
regular appearance when viewed tele- Charles Messier, who in 1781 compiled a
scopically as compared with the chaotic catalog of 103 nebulous, or extended,
forms of other types of nebula. objects in order to prevent their confu-
Supernova remnants are the clouds sion with comets. Most are clusters of
of gas expanding at speeds of hundreds stars, 35 are galaxies, and 11 are nebulae.
or even thousands of kilometres per sec- Even today many of these objects are
ond from comparatively recent explosions commonly referred to by their Messier
of massive stars. If a supernova remnant catalog number; M20, for instance, is the
is younger than a few thousand years, it great Trifid Nebula, in the constellation
may be assumed that the gas in the neb- Sagittarius.
ula was mostly ejected by the exploded
star. Otherwise, the nebula would consist The Work of the Herschels
chiefly of interstellar gas that has been
swept up by the expanding remnant of By far the greatest observers of the early
older objects. and middle 19th century were the English
astronomers William Herschel and his
Early observations son John. Between 1786 and 1802 William
of nebulae Herschel, aided by his sister Caroline,
compiled three catalogs totaling about
In 1610, two years after the invention of 2,500 clusters, nebulae, and galaxies.
the telescope, the Orion Nebula, which John Herschel later added to the catalogs
looks like a star to the naked eye, was 1,700 other nebulous objects in the south-
discovered by the French scholar and ern sky visible from the Cape Observatory
naturalist Nicolas-Claude Fabri de in South Africa but not from London and
Peiresc. In 1656 Christiaan Huygens, the 500 more objects in the northern sky vis-
Dutch scholar and scientist, using his ible from England.
own greatly superior instruments, was The catalogs of the Herschels formed
the first to describe the bright inner the basis for the great New General
region of the nebula and to determine Catalogue (NGC) of J.L. Dreyer, pub-
that its inner star is not single but a com- lished in 1888. It contains the location
pact quadruple system. and a brief description of 7,840 nebulae,
Early 18th-century observational galaxies, and clusters. In 1895 and 1908
astronomers gave high priority to comet it was supplemented by two Index
132 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Catalogues (IC) of 5,386 additional the spectrum of the Orion Nebula showed
objects. The list still included galaxies as bright emission lines of glowing gases,
well as true nebulae, for they were often with conspicuous hydrogen lines and
at this time still indistinguishable. Most some green lines even brighter. By con-
of the brighter galaxies are still identi- trast, the spectrum of galaxies was found
fied by their NGC or IC numbers to be stellar, so a distinction between gal-
according to their listing in the New axies and nebulae—that nebulae are
General Catalogue or Index Catalogues. gaseous and galaxies are stellar—was
appreciated at this time, although the
Advances Brought by true sizes and distances of galaxies were
Photography and not demonstrated until the 20th century.
20th-century discoveries
The advent of photography, which allows
the recording of faint details invisible to The 20th century witnessed enormous
the naked eye and provides a permanent advances in observational techniques as
record of the observation for study of fine well as in the scientific understanding of
details at leisure, caused a revolution in the physical processes that operate in
the understanding of nebulae. In 1880 the interstellar matter. In 1930 a German opti-
first photograph of the Orion Nebula was cal worker, Bernhard Schmidt, invented
made, but really good ones were not an extremely fast wide-angled camera
obtained until 1883. These early photo- ideal for photographing faint extended
graphs showed a wealth of detail nebulae. Photographic plates became pro-
extending out to distances unsuspected gressively more sensitive to an
by visual observers. ever-widening range of colours, but pho-
Much can be learned about the physi- tography has been completely replaced
cal nature of an astronomical object by by photoelectric devices. Most images
studying its spectrum—i.e., the resolution are now recorded with so-called charge-
of its light into different wavelengths (or coupled devices (CCDs) that act as arrays
colours). Study of the spectrum of an of tiny photoelectric cells, each recording
object provides a decisive test as to the light from a small patch of sky. Modern
whether it is composed of unresolved CCDs consist of square arrays of up to
stars (as are galaxies) or glowing gas. 4,000 cells on each side, or 16 million inde-
Stars radiate at all wavelengths, almost pendent photocells, capable of observing
always with dark absorption lines super- the sky simultaneously. Electronic detec-
imposed, while hot, transparent gas tors are up to 100 times more sensitive
clouds radiate only emission lines at cer- than photography, can record a much wider
tain wavelengths characteristic of their range of light levels, and are sensitive to
constituent gases. In 1864 observation of a much wider range of wavelengths, from
Nebulae | 133

0.1 micrometre (3.93700787 x 10-6 inch) in astronomers to record simultaneously a

the ultraviolet (accessible only from sat- wide range of wavelengths with very high
ellites orbiting above Earth’s atmosphere) spectral resolution (i.e., to distinguish
to more than 1.2 micrometres (4.72440945 slightly differing wavelengths). For even
x 10-5 inch) in the infrared. higher spectral resolution astronomers
Spacecraft allow the observation of employ Fabry-Pérot interferometers.
radiation normally absorbed by Earth’s Spectra provide powerful diagnostics of
atmosphere: gamma and X-rays (which the physical conditions within nebulae.
have very short wavelengths), far-ultravio- Images and spectra provided by Earth-
let radiation (with wavelengths shorter than orbiting satellites, especially the Hubble
about 0.3 micrometre [1.18110236 x 10-5 Space Telescope, have yielded data of
inch], below which atmospheric ozone is unprecedented quality.
strongly absorbing), and infrared (from Ground-based observations also have
about 3 micrometres to 1 mm [.00012 inches played a major role in recent advances in
to .039 inch]), strongly absorbed by atmo- scientific understanding of nebulae. The
spheric water vapour and carbon dioxide. emission of gas in the radio and sub-
Gamma rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet radia- millimetre wavelength ranges provides
tion reveal the physical conditions in the crucial information regarding physical
hottest regions in space (extending to some conditions and molecular composition.
100 million kelvins in shocked supernova Large radio telescope arrays, in which
gas). Infrared radiation reveals the condi- several individual telescopes function
tions within dark cold molecular clouds, collectively as a single enormous instru-
into which starlight cannot penetrate ment, give spatial resolutions in the radio
because of absorbing dust layers. regime far superior to any yet achieved
The primary means of studying nebu- by optical means.
lae is not by images but by spectra, which
show the relative distribution of the radia- Chemical composition
tion among various wavelengths (or colours and physical processes
for optical radiation). Spectra can be
obtained by means of prisms (as in the ear- Many characteristics of nebulae are
lier part of the 20th century), diffraction determined by the physical state of their
gratings, or crystals, in the case of X-rays. A constituent hydrogen, by far the most
particularly useful instrument is the echelle abundant element. For historical reasons,
spectrograph, in which one coarsely ruled nebulae in which hydrogen is mainly ion-
grating spreads the electromagnetic radia- ized (H+) are called H II regions, or diffuse
tion in one direction, while another finely nebulae. Those in which hydrogen is
ruled grating disperses it in the perpendic- mainly neutral are designated H I regions,
ular direction. This device, often used both and those in which the gas is in molecu-
in spacecraft and on the ground, allows lar form (H2) are referred to as molecular
134 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

clouds. The distinction is important Ultraviolet photons with energies of

because of major differences in the radia- more than 11.2 electron volts can dissoci-
tion that is present in the various regions ate molecular hydrogen (H2) into two H
and consequently in the physical condi- atoms. In H I regions there are enough
tions and processes that are important. of these photons to prevent the amount of
Radiation is a wave but is carried by H2 from becoming large, but the destruc-
packets called photons. Each photon has tion of H2 as fast as it forms takes its toll
a specified wavelength and precise on the number of photons of suitable
energy that it carries, with gamma rays energies. Furthermore, interstellar dust is
(short wavelengths) carrying the most a fairly efficient absorber of photons
and X-rays, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, throughout the optical and ultraviolet
microwave, and radio waves following in range. In some regions of space the
order of decreasing energies (or increas- number of photons with energies higher
ing wavelengths). Neutral hydrogen than 11.2 volts is reduced to the level
atoms are extremely efficient at absorb- where H2 cannot be destroyed as fast as
ing ionizing radiation—that is, an energy it is produced on grain surfaces. In this
per photon of at least 13.6 electron volts case, H2 becomes the dominant form of
(or, equivalently, a wavelength of less hydrogen present. The gas is then part
than 0.0912 micrometre [3.59055118 x 10-6 of a molecular cloud. The role of inter-
in]). If the hydrogen is mainly neutral, no stellar dust in this process is crucial
radiation with energy above this thresh- because H2 cannot be formed efficiently
old can penetrate except for photons with in the gas phase.
energies in the X-ray range and above
(thousands of electron volts or more), in Interstellar Dust
which case the hydrogen becomes some-
what transparent. The absorption by Only about 0.7 percent of the mass of the
neutral hydrogen abruptly reduces the interstellar medium is in the form of solid
radiation field to almost zero for energies grains, but these grains have a profound
above 13.6 electron volts. This dearth of effect on the physical conditions within
hydrogen-ionizing radiation implies that the gas. Their main effect is to absorb
no ions requiring more ionizing energy stellar radiation; for photons unable to
than hydrogen can be produced, and the ionize hydrogen and for wavelengths out-
ionic species of all elements are limited side absorption lines or bands, the dust
to the lower stages of ionization. Within grains are much more opaque than the
H II regions, with almost all the hydrogen gas. The dust absorption increases with
ionized and thereby rendered nonabsorb- photon energy, so long-wavelength radia-
ing, photons of all energies propagate, tion (radio and far-infrared) can penetrate
and ions requiring energetic radiation for dust freely, near-infrared rather well, and
their production (e.g., O++) occur. ultraviolet relatively poorly.
Nebulae | 135

Dark, cold molecular clouds, within (1) grains, either free-flying or as compo-
which all star formation takes place, owe nents of composite grains that also
their existence to dust. Besides absorbing contain silicates, and (2) individual, freely
starlight, the dust acts to heat the gas floating aromatic hydrocarbon molecules,
under some conditions (by ejecting elec- with a range varying from 70 to several
trons produced by the photoelectric hundred carbon atoms and some hydro-
effect, following the absorption of a stel- gen atoms that dangle from the outer
lar photon) and to cool the gas under edges of the molecule or are trapped in
other conditions (because the dust can the middle of it.
radiate energy more efficiently than the It is merely convention that these
gas and so in general is colder). The larg- molecules are referred to as dust, since
est chemical effect of dust is to provide the smallest may be only somewhat larger
the only site of molecular hydrogen for- than the largest molecules observed
mation on grain surfaces. It also removes with a radio telescope. Both of the dust
some heavy elements (especially iron components are needed to explain spec-
and silicon) that would act as coolants to troscopic features arising from the dust.
the gas. The optical appearance of most In addition, there are probably mantles of
nebulae is significantly modified by the hydrocarbon on the surfaces of the grains.
obscuring effects of the dust. The size of the grains ranges from per-
The chemical composition of the gas haps as small as 0.0003 micrometre
phase of the interstellar medium alone, (1.18110236 x 10-8 in) for the tiniest hydro-
without regard to the solid dust, can be carbon molecules to a substantial fraction
determined from the strength of narrow of a micrometre; there are many more
absorption lines that are produced by the small grains than large ones.
gas in the spectra of background stars. The dust cannot be formed directly
Comparison of the composition of the from purely gaseous material at the low
gas with cosmic (solar) abundances densities found even in comparatively
shows that almost all the iron, magne- dense interstellar clouds, which would be
sium, and silicon, much of the carbon, considered an excellent laboratory vac-
and only some of the oxygen and nitro- uum. For a solid to condense, the gas
gen are contained in the dust. The density must be high enough to allow a
absorption and scattering properties of few atoms to collide and stick together
the dust reveal that the solid grains are long enough to radiate away their energy
composed partially of silicaceous mate- to cool and form a solid. Grains are known
rial similar to terrestrial rocks, though of to form in the outer atmospheres of cool
an amorphous rather than crystalline supergiant stars, where the gas density is
variety. The grains also have a carbona- comparatively high (perhaps 109 times
ceous component. The carbon dust what it is in typical nebulae). The grains
probably occurs in at least two forms: are then blown out of the stellar
136 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

atmosphere by radiation pressure (the the outer edge of a cold, quiescent dark
mechanical force of the light they absorb molecular cloud and ionizes an H II
and scatter). Calculations indicate that region in its vicinity. The pressure
refracting materials, such as the constitu- strongly increases in the newly ionized
ents of the grains proposed above, should zone, so the ionized gas flows out through
condense in this way. the surrounding material. There are also
There is clear indication that the dust expanding structures resembling bubbles
is heavily modified within the interstellar surrounding stars that are ejecting their
medium by interactions with itself and outer atmospheres into stellar winds.
with the interstellar gas. The absorption
and scattering properties of dust show Turbulence
that there are many more smaller grains
in the diffuse interstellar medium than in Besides these organized flows, nebulae of
dense clouds. Apparently in the dense all types always show chaotic motions
medium the small grains have coagulated called turbulence. This is a well-known
into larger ones, thereby lowering the phenomenon in gas dynamics that results
ability of the dust to absorb radiation when there is low viscosity in flowing
with short wavelengths (namely, ultra- fluids, so the motions become chaotic
violet, near 0.1 micrometre). The eddies that transfer kinetic and magnetic
gas-phase abundances of some elements, energy and momentum from large scales
such as iron, magnesium, and nickel, also down to small sizes. On small-enough
are much lower in the dense regions scales viscosity always becomes impor-
than in the diffuse gas, although even in tant, and the energy is converted into
the diffuse gas most of these elements heat, which is kinetic energy on a molec-
are missing from the gas and are there- ular scale. Turbulence in nebulae has
fore condensed into dust. These profound, but poorly understood, effects
systematic interactions of gas and dust on their energy balance and pressure
show that dust grains collide with gas support.
atoms much more rapidly than one would Turbulence is observed by means of
expect if the dust and gas simply drifted the widths of the emission or absorption
together. There must be disturbances, lines in a nebular spectrum. No line can
probably magnetic in nature, that keep be precisely sharp in wavelength, because
the dust and gas moving with respect to the energy levels of the atom or ion from
each other. which it arises are not precisely sharp.
The motions of gas within nebulae of Actual lines are usually much broader
all types are clearly chaotic and compli- than this intrinsic width because of the
cated. There are sometimes large-scale Doppler effect arising from motions of
flows, such as when a hot star forms on the atoms along the line of sight. The
Nebulae | 137

emission line of an atom is shifted to large scales that can undergo turbulent
longer wavelengths if it is receding cascading to heat.
from the observer and to shorter wave-
lengths if it is approaching. Part of the Galactic Magnetic Field
observed broadening is easily explained
by thermal motions, since v2, the aver- There is a pervasive magnetic field that
aged squared speed, is proportional to threads the spiral arms of the Milky Way
T/m, where T is the temperature and m is Galaxy and extends to thousands of light-
the mass of the atom. Thus, hydrogen years above the galactic plane. The
atoms move the fastest at any given evidence for the existence of this field
temperature. comes from radio synchrotron emission
Observations show that, in fact, produced by very energetic electrons
hydrogen lines are broader than those of moving through it and from the polariza-
other elements but not as much as tion of starlight that is produced by
expected from thermal motions alone. elongated dust grains that tend to be
Turbulence represents bulk motions, aligned with the magnetic field. The mag-
independent of the mass of the atoms. netic field is very strongly coupled to the
This chaotic motion of gas atoms of all gas because it acts upon the embedded
masses would explain the observations. electrons, even the few in H I regions, and
The physical question, though, is what the electrons impart some motion of the
maintains the turbulence. Why do the other constituents by means of collisions.
turbulent cascades not carry kinetic The gas and field are effectively confined
energy from large-size scales into ever- to moving together, even though the gas
shorter-size scales and finally into heat? can slip along the field freely. The field
The answer is that energy is continu- has an important influence upon the tur-
ously injected into the gases by a variety bulence because it exerts a pressure
of processes. One involves strong stellar similar to gas pressure, thereby influenc-
winds from hot stars, which are blown off ing the motions of the gas. The resulting
at speeds of thousands of kilometres per complex interactions and wave motions
second. Another arises from the violently have been studied in extensive numerical
expanding remnants of supernova explo- calculations.
sions, which sometimes start at 20,000
km (12,000 miles) per second and gradu- Molecular Clouds
ally slow to typical cloud speeds (10 km
[6 miles] per second). A third process is A molecular cloud, or a dark nebula, is an
the occasional collision of clouds moving interstellar clump or cloud that is opaque
in the overall galactic gravitational poten- because of its internal dust grains. The
tial. All these processes inject energy on form of such dark clouds is very irregular:
138 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

they have no clearly defined outer bound- and the internal magnetic field provide
aries and sometimes take on convoluted support against the clouds’ own gravity.
serpentine shapes because of turbulence. The chemistry and physical condi-
The largest molecular clouds are visible tions of the interior of a molecular cloud
to the naked eye, appearing as dark are quite different from those of the
patches against the brighter background surrounding low-density interstellar
of the Milky Way Galaxy. An example is medium. In the outer parts of the dark
the Coalsack in the southern sky. Stars cloud, hydrogen is neutral. Deeper within
are born within molecular clouds. it, as dust blocks out an increasing
amount of stellar ultraviolet radiation,
Composition the cloud becomes darker and colder.
Approaching the centre, the predominant
The hydrogen of these opaque dark clouds form of gaseous carbon changes succes-
exists in the form of H2 molecules. The sively from C+ on the outside to neutral C
largest nebulae of this type, the so-called (C0) and finally to the molecule carbon
giant molecular clouds, are a million times monoxide (CO), which is so stable that it
more massive than the Sun. They contain remains the major form of carbon in the
much of the mass of the interstellar gas phase in the darkest regions. At great
medium, are some 150 light-years across, depths within the cloud, other molecules
and have an average density of 100 to 300 can be seen from their microwave transi-
molecules per cubic centimetre (1 cubic tions, and more than 150 chemical species
cm = .06 cubic in) and an internal temper- have been identified within the constitu-
ature of only 7 to 15 K. Molecular clouds ent gas.
consist mainly of gas and dust but contain Because of the comparatively low
many stars as well. The central regions of densities and temperatures, the chemistry
these clouds are completely hidden from is very exotic, as judged by terrestrial
view by dust and would be undetectable experiments; some rather unstable species
except for the far-infrared thermal emis- can exist in space because there is not
sion from dust grains and the microwave enough energy to convert them to more-
emissions from the constituent molecules. stable forms. An example is the near
This radiation is not absorbed by dust and equality of the abundances of the inter-
readily escapes the cloud. The material stellar molecule HNC (hydroisocyanic
within the clouds is clumped together on acid) and its isomer HCN (hydrocyanic
all size scales, with some clouds ranging acid); in ordinary terrestrial conditions
down to the masses of individual stars. there is plenty of energy to allow the
The density within the clumps may reach nitrogen and carbon atoms in HNC to
up to 105 H2 molecules per cubic centime- exchange positions and produce HCN,
tre or more. Small clumps may extend by far the preferred species for equilib-
about one light-year across. Turbulence rium chemistry. In the cold clouds,
Nebulae | 139

however, not enough energy exists for the the protostar is a rotating disk larger
exchange to occur. There is less than one- than the solar system that collapses into
thousandth as much starlight within a “protoplanets” and comets.
cloud as in the interstellar space outside These ideas are given encouraging
the cloud, and the heating of the material confirmation by observations of molecu-
in the cloud is provided primarily by lar clouds in very long wavelength infrared
cosmic rays. Cooling within the cloud radiation. Some of the brightest infra-
occurs chiefly by transitions between red sources are associated with such dark
low-lying levels of the carbon monoxide dust clouds; a good example is the class
molecule. of T Tauri variables, named for their pro-
The emission lines from C+, C0, and totype star in the constellation Taurus.
CO show that the edges of the molecular The T Tauri stars are known for a variety
clouds are very convoluted spatially, with of reasons to be extremely young. The
stellar ultraviolet radiation able to pene- variables are always found in or near
trate surprisingly far throughout the cloud molecular clouds; they often are also
despite the absorption of dust. Stellar powerful sources of infrared radiation,
radiation can apparently enter the cloud corresponding to warm clouds of dust
through channels where the dust (and gas) heated by the T Tauri star to a few hun-
density is lower than average. The clump- dred kelvins. There are some strong
iness of the interstellar material has infrared sources (especially in the con-
profound effects on its properties. stellation of Orion) that have no visible
stars with them; these are presumably
Formation of Stars “cocoon stars” completely hidden by their
veils of dust.
In the inner regions of molecular clouds One of the remarkable features of
an important event takes place: the for- molecular clouds is their concentration
mation of stars from the gravitational in the spiral arms in the plane of the
collapse of dense clumps within the neb- Milky Way Galaxy. While there is no defi-
ula. Initially the cloud consists of a chaotic nite boundary to the arms, which have
jumble of smaller clouds, each of which is irregularities and bifurcations, the nebu-
destined to be an individual stellar sys- lae in other spiral galaxies are strung out
tem. Each system has a rotary motion along these narrow lanes and form a
arising from the original motions of the beautifully symmetric system when
material that is falling into it. Because of viewed from another galaxy. The nebulae
this spin, the collapsing cloud flattens as are remarkably close to the galactic plane;
it shrinks. Eventually most of its mass is most are within 300 light-years, only 1
in a rotating condensation near its centre, percent of the Sun’s distance from the
a “protostar” destined to become one or centre. The details of the explanation of
more closely spaced stars. Surrounding why the gas is largely confined to the
140 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

spiral arms is beyond the scope of this their very existence to processes that
book. Briefly, the higher density of the occur within stars.
stars in the arms produces sufficient
gravity to hold the gas to them. Hydrogen Clouds
Why doesn’t the gas simply condense
into stars and disappear? The present A different type of nebula is the hydro-
rate of star formation is about one solar gen cloud, or the H I region; this region
mass per year in the entire Galaxy, which is interstellar matter in which hydrogen is
contains something like 2 × 109 solar mostly neutral, rather than ionized or
masses of gas. Clearly, if the gas received molecular. Most of the matter between
no return of material from stars, it would the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, as well
be depleted in roughly 2 × 109 years, about as in other spiral galaxies, occurs in the
one-sixth the present age of the Galaxy. form of relatively cold neutral hydrogen
There are several processes by which gas gas. Neutral hydrogen clouds are easily
is returned to the interstellar medium. detectable at radio wavelengths because
Possibly the most important is the ejec- they emit a characteristic energy at a
tion of planetary nebula shells; other wavelength of 21 cm (8 in).
processes are ejection of material from Neutral hydrogen is dominant in
massive O- and B-type normal stars or clouds that have enough starlight to dis-
from cool M giants and supergiants. The sociate molecular hydrogen into atoms
rate of gas ejection is roughly equal to but lack hydrogen-ionizing photons from
the rate of star formation, so that the mass hot stars. These clouds can be seen as
of free gas is declining very slowly. (Some separate structures within the lower-
gas is also falling into the Galaxy that has density interstellar medium or else on
never been associated with any galaxy.) the outer edges of the molecular clouds.
This cycling of gas through stars has Because a neutral cloud moves through
had one major effect: the chemical com- space as a single entity, it often can be
position of the gas has been changed by distinguished by the absorption line that
the nuclear reactions inside the stars. its atoms or ions produce at their com-
There is excellent evidence that the mon radial velocity in the spectrum of a
Galaxy originally consisted of 77 percent background star.
hydrogen by mass and that almost all of If neutral clouds at a typical pressure
the rest of the constituent matter was were left alone until they could reach an
helium. All heavy elements have been equilibrium state, they could exist at
produced inside stars by being subjected either of two temperatures: “cold” (about
to the exceedingly high temperatures 80 K) or “warm” (about 8,000 K), both
and densities in the central regions. Thus, determined by the balance of heating and
most of the atoms and molecules on cooling rates. There should be little mate-
Earth, as well as in human bodies, owe rial in between. Observations show that
Nebulae | 141

these cold and warm clouds do exist, but cluster is of this type. It was discovered in
roughly half the material is in clouds at 1912 that the spectrum of this nebula
intermediate temperatures, which implies mimics the absorption lines of the nearby
that turbulence and collisions between stars, whereas bright nebulae that emit
clouds can prevent the equilibrium states their own light show their own charac-
from being reached. Cold H I regions are teristic emission lines. The brightest
heated by electrons ejected from the dust reflection nebulae are illuminated by
grains by interstellar ultraviolet radiation B-type stars that are very luminous but
incident upon such a cloud from outside. have temperatures lower than about
Cooling is mainly by C+ because passing 25,000 K, cooler than the O-type stars
electrons or hydrogen atoms can excite it that would ionize the hydrogen in the gas
from its normal energy state, the lowest, and produce an H II region.
to one slightly higher, which is then fol- The extent and brightness of reflec-
lowed by emission of radiation at 158 tion nebulae show conclusively that dust
micrometres. This line is observed to be grains are excellent reflectors in the broad
very strong in the spectrum of the Milky range of wavelengths extending from the
Way Galaxy as a whole, which indicates ultraviolet (as determined from observa-
that a great deal of energy is removed tions from space) through the visible.
from interstellar gas by this process. Cold Optical observations suggest that about
H I regions have densities of 10 to 100 60–70 percent of the light is reflected
hydrogen atoms per cubic cm. Warm H I rather than absorbed, while the corre-
regions are cooled by excitation of the sponding fraction for Earth is only 35
n = 2 level of hydrogen, which is at a much percent and for the Moon a mere 5 per-
higher energy than the lowest level of C+ cent. Grains reflect light almost as well as
and therefore requires a higher tempera- fresh snow, more because of their favour-
ture for its excitation. The density of 0.5 able size (which promotes scattering
atom per cubic cm (1 cubic cm = .06 in) is rather than absorption) than their chemi-
much lower than in the colder regions. At cal composition. Calculations show that
any particular density there is far more neu- even graphite, which is black in bulk,
tral hydrogen available for cooling than C+. reflects visible light well when dispersed
into small particles.
Reflection Nebulae
H II Region
The reflection nebulae are interstellar
clouds that would normally be dark nebu- Nebulae that are full of ionized hydrogen
lae but whose dust reflects the light from atoms are H II regions. (These regions
a nearby bright star that is not hot enough are also called diffuse nebulae or emission
to ionize the cloud’s hydrogen. The nebulae.) The energy that is responsible
famous nebulosity in the Pleiades star for ionizing and heating the hydrogen in
142 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

an emission nebula comes from a central powered by clusters of massive hot stars
star that has a surface temperature in rather than by any single stellar body. A
excess of 20,000 K. The density of these typical H II region within the Galaxy
clouds normally ranges from 10 to 100,000 measures about 30 light-years in diame-
particles per cubic cm (1 cubic cm = .06 ter and has an average density of about
in); their temperature is about 8,000 K. 10 atoms per cubic cm. The mass of such
Like molecular clouds, H II regions a cloud amounts to several hundred solar
typically have little regular structure or masses. The only H II region visible to
sharp boundaries. Their sizes and masses the naked eye is the beautiful Orion
vary widely. There is even a faint region Nebula. It is located in the constellation
of ionized gas around the Sun and other named for the Greek mythological
comparatively cool stars, but it cannot be hunter and is seen as the central “star” in
observed from nearby stars with existing Orion’s sword. The entire constellation is
instruments. enveloped in faint emission nebulosity,
The largest H II regions (none of powered by several stars in Orion’s belt
which occur in the Milky Way Galaxy) rather than by the star exciting the much
are 500 light-years across and contain at smaller Orion Nebula. The largest H II
least 100,000 solar masses of ionized region in terms of angular size is the Gum
gas. These enormous H II regions are Nebula, discovered by Australian astron-
omer Colin S. Gum. It measures 40° in
angular diameter and is mainly ionized
by two very hot stars (Zeta Puppis and
Gamma Velorum).
High-resolution studies of H II
regions reveal one of the surprises that
make the study of astrophysics delight-
ful. Instead of the smooth structure that
might be expected of a gas, a delicate
tracery of luminous filaments can be
detected down to the smallest scale that
can be resolved. In the Orion Nebula this
is about 6 billion km (4 billion miles), or
A plume of gas (lower right) in the Orion about the radius of the orbit of Pluto
Nebula. A highly supersonic shock wave— around the Sun. Even finer details almost
moving at a speed of more than 238,000 km
surely exist, and there is evidence from
(148,000 miles) per hour—was produced by a
spectra that much of the matter may be
beam of material emanating from a newly
gathered into dense condensations, or
formed star. National Aeronautics and Space
Administration knots, the rest of the space being com-
paratively empty. Unrestrained gas would
Nebulae | 143

fill a vacuum between the visible fila- is merely a conspicuous ionized region
ments in about 200 years, an astronomical on the nearby face of a much larger dark
instant. The nebular gas must be cloud; the H II region is almost entirely
restrained from expansion by the pres- produced by the ionization provided by a
sure of million-degree tenuous material single hot star, one of the four bright
between the filaments. Its pressure, how- central stars (the Trapezium) identified
ever, is comparable to that in the visible by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens
“warm” (8,000 K) gas of the H II region. in 1656. The shape of the Orion Nebula
Hence, the density of the hot material is appears at visible wavelengths as irregu-
several hundred times lower, which effec- lar. However, much of this seeming chaos
tively prevents it from being observable is spurious, caused by obscuration of dust
except in X-rays. The space throughout in dark foreground neutral material rather
the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy is than by the actual distribution of ionized
largely filled with this hot component, material. Radio waves can penetrate the
which is mainly produced and heated by dust unhindered, and the radio emission
supernovae. from the ionized gas reveals it to be quite
In H II regions, hot gas also arises circular in shape and surprisingly sym-
from the stellar winds of the exciting metrical as seen in projection on the sky.
stars. These winds create a large cavity or The foreground dark material obscures
bubble in the denser, cooler gas originally about half the ionized nebula.
surrounding such a star. In the interior of An H II region on the outer edge of a
the bubble, the radially flowing stellar large molecular cloud can induce star for-
wind passes through a transition in which mation. For instance, behind the bright
its radial motion is converted into heat. Orion Nebula, deeper within the dark
The hot gas then fills most of the cavity cold Orion molecular cloud, new stars are
(perhaps 90 percent or more) and serves being formed today. At present, none of
to separate the filaments of the warm, the new stars is massive and hot enough
comparatively dense H II region. Within to produce its own H II region, but pre-
the condensations of visible plasma, there sumably some of them eventually will be.
are neutral globules in which the gas is When an H II region is produced from
quite cold (about 100 K) but is dense cold molecular gas by the formation of a
enough (typically, 10,000 atoms per cubic hot star, the temperature is raised from
cm) to have about the same pressure as roughly 25 to 8,000 K, and the number of
the hot and warm materials. In short, an particles per cubic centimetre is almost
H II region is much more complicated quadrupled because each H2 molecule is
than its visual radiation would suggest. split into two ions and two electrons. Gas
H II regions are almost always accom- pressure is proportional to the product of
panied by molecular clouds on their the temperature and number of particles
borders. The Orion Nebula, for example, per cubic centimetre (regardless of their
144 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

mass, so electrons are as important as the The very dense, very young H II
much heavier ions). Thus, the pressure in regions within molecular clouds are
an H II region is some 800 times the pres- called “ultracompact” because of their
sure of the cold gas from which it formed. small sizes and high densities. These
The excess pressure causes a violent nebulae are observed only at the wave-
expansion of the gas into the dense cloud. lengths of radio and far-infrared radiation,
Rapid star formation may occur in the both of which are able to penetrate the
compressed region, producing an expand- thick dust in the clouds. They are
ing group of young stars. Such groups, extremely bright at wavelengths of 50
the so-called O Associations (with O micrometres (.002 in). There are about
stars) or T Associations (with T Tauri 2,500 in the Milky Way Galaxy, represent-
stars), have been observed. The compo- ing 10 to 20 percent of the total O-type
nent stars simultaneously generate star population. Usually only a light-
extremely fast outflows from their atmo- month in size, 100 times smaller than a
spheres. These winds create regions of typical H II region, they show densities in
hot, tenuous gas surrounding the associa- the ionized region of 105 hydrogen atoms
tion. Eventually the massive stars in the per cubic cm. They cannot be at rest with
association explode as supernovae, which respect to the surrounding gas; if they
further disturb the surrounding gas. were, the immense pressure exerted by
their dense hot gas would cause a violent
Ultracompact H II Regions expansion. (Their lifetimes would be only
about 3,000 years—exceedingly short on
This picture of the evolution of H II an astronomical timescale—and not
regions and molecular clouds is one of nearly as many could be seen as the num-
constant turmoil, a few transient O stars ber observed by astronomers.) Rather,
serving to keep the material stirred, in their gas is kept confined because they
constant motion, continually producing are moving through the surrounding
new stars and churning clouds of gas and cloud at speeds of about 10 km (6 miles)
dust. In this way some of the stellar per second, and what is observed is the
thermonuclear energy is converted into cloud of freshly ionized gas ahead of
the kinetic energy of interstellar gas. This them that has not yet had time to expand.
process begins just after the formation of The ultracompact H II regions leave
the massive star that will power the behind a trail of ionized material that is
mature H II region. The star begins pro- not as bright as the confined gas ahead of
ducing copious amounts of ultraviolet them. This trail gradually fades as it
radiation, converting the surrounding H2 recombines after the ionizing star has
to atomic hydrogen, and then ionizing it to passed. The radio radiation is produced
very dense high-pressure H+. by the ionized gas, but the far-infrared
Nebulae | 145

radiation is emitted by the 5,000 solar provided by a single star. Indeed, there
masses of surrounding dust warmed by are clumps of ionized gas ionized by tight
the luminosity of the embedded star. groupings of single stars that are embed-
ded in rather diffuse material. These
Supergiant Nebulae objects are more than 10 times as lumi-
nous as any in the Milky Way Galaxy and
The most energetic H II regions within are about 200 light-years in diameter. If
nearby galaxies have over 1,000 times they were located at the Orion Nebula,
more ionizations per second than does they would cover the entire constellation
the Orion Nebula, too many to be of Orion with brightly glowing gas. These

The inner part of the 30 Doradus Nebula, the most luminous nebula in the entire Local
Group of galaxies, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud. National Optical Astronomy
146 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

supergiant nebulae are more than 10 carbon, have important ions that do not
times as luminous as any in the Galaxy. show easily observable lines. Elaborate
The entire Local Group—the cluster computer calculations predict the ioniza-
of galaxies consisting of the Milky Way tion structure of gas ionized by a hot star
Galaxy, the great spiral galaxy in Andro­ whose temperature is determined by its
meda, the smaller spiral in Triangulum, and spectrum. The calculations then provide
more than 50 other stellar assemblages— predictions of the abundances of the
contains but one supergiant nebula, the invisible ions, relative to the observable,
object called 30 Doradus, in the Large and the total elemental abundance
Magellanic Cloud. It contains a stellar follows.
cluster called R136, the source of most of The main difficulty with this straight-
the energy radiated by the nebula. This forward procedure is that there are two
grouping consists of dozens of the most methods for determining the observed
massive known stars of the Milky Way ionic abundances; each should be reli-
Galaxy, all packed into a volume only a able, but they give quite different answers.
thousandth of a typical stellar spacing in By far the easier method of determining
size. How such a cluster could form is a ionic abundances is to observe the bright
fascinating puzzle. There are other super- lines produced by collisions between the
giant nebulae outside the Local Group, ion and energetic electrons. The bright-
some of which radiate 10 times the energy est lines from this process in the entire
of 30 Doradus. spectrum of H II regions arise from either
O+ or O+2. These bright lines (and others
Chemical Composition of such as N+) are the basis of the abundance
H II Regions determinations in other galaxies.
Alternatively, the ionic abundances
The chemical composition of H II regions can be determined from the very faint
(the numbers of atoms of each chemical emission lines that follow recombination,
element, relative to hydrogen) can be the process by which the higher stage of
estimated from nebular spectra. Each ele- ionization captures an electron (usually
ment is found in more than one stage of at low energies) into a high level of the
ionization, so the first step is to use the ion. Following recombination, there is a
emission-line strengths of each stage of cascade from the high energy levels to
ionization, relative to those of the hydro- the ground state, with photons in the
gen lines, to obtain the abundance of that observed emission line being emitted at
particular stage of ionization. All abun- each downward transition. These emis-
dant elements have some stages of sion lines are fainter than the hydrogen
ionization that produce observable emissions by roughly the ratio of abun-
emission lines. On the other hand, some dances, which is more than 1,000, so only
elements, such as argon, sulfur, and in bright nebulae can this method be
Nebulae | 147

used. However, modern spectrographs on However, no such variations have been

large telescopes have provided strengths convincingly detected. Some astronomers
of these faint recombination lines for have proposed that there are chemical
many objects, with good agreement inhomogeneities within nebulae that give
among observers. Checks are provided rise to the differences between the abun-
by comparison of several lines of the dances derived from recombination and
same stage of ionization. The relative collisionally excited lines, but how such
strengths of the observed lines agree well variations could be maintained is
with the expectations of the cascading unexplained.
process in the excited ions. Nevertheless, abundances are esti-
The results are interesting and con- mated on the basis of a simple
troversial. For H II regions that are bright interpretation of the mysterious postu-
enough for the faint heavy-element lated temperature excursions, but no
recombination lines to be measured, the better procedure has been suggested to
carbon, nitrogen, neon, and oxygen abun- deal with the startling discrepancies in
dances from recombination lines are the derived abundances. The other class
uniformly about 1.8 times those from the of ionized nebulae, the planetary nebulae,
collisionally excited lines. A common show the same effect. The local estimated
interpretation is that there are strong abundances (say, for the Orion Nebula)
temperature fluctuations within the nebu- are roughly solar. The abundances of
lae. In the warmer regions the collisionally heavy elements per million hydrogen
excited lines are strongly overproduced atoms are 500 for carbon, 80 for nitrogen,
per heavy ion, so fewer heavy ions are 600 for oxygen, and 100 for neon. There
needed to account for the observed line is a gradient of these abundances within
strengths. The hydrogen lines are hardly the Milky Way Galaxy. At a distance half-
affected by the postulated temperature way to the centre, 12,000 light-years inward,
fluctuations. The temperature fluctuations, they are 50 percent larger than locally.
which must be large (about 20 percent of Beyond Earth the gradient seems to per-
the average), are unexplained. Turbulence sist, but there are very few observations.
and magnetic fields are prime suspects. Helium is about 0.1 times as abundant as
The nebular temperature can be esti- hydrogen, by number of atoms, through-
mated directly from collisional lines out the Milky Way Galaxy.
alone by comparing emission lines from Except for a few cases, compositions
high-energy levels, populated by collisions, of nebulae in galaxies outside the Milky
with lines from lower levels. This process Way Galaxy are measured by collision-
can be carried out at various places on ally excited lines. The Large Magellanic
the sky within each nebula, and large- Cloud has compositions that are uni-
scale temperature fluctuations would formly about one-half those of the local
appear as variations from place to place. Milky Way for oxygen, neon, argon, and
148 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

sulfur and are one-quarter for carbon and

nitrogen. It appears that the first group of
elements must be manufactured together,
presumably in massive stars, and ejected
together into the interstellar gas. Stars of
a different (probably lower) mass must
produce carbon and nitrogen. Planetary
nebulae suggest the same scenario.
The abundance of helium in nebulae
has received considerable attention
because the helium content of the oldest
objects provides clues to the origin of
the universe. The value cited above for the
Orion Nebula is in agreement with the pre- Ring Nebula (M57, NGC 6720) in the constel-
dictions of the big-bang model. lation Lyra, a planetary nebula consisting
mainly of gases thrown off by the star in the
Planetary Nebulae centre. Hale Observatories © 1959

Some nebulae, called planetary nebulae,

are expanding shells of luminous gas Forms and Structure
expelled by dying stars. Observed tele-
scopically, they have a relatively round Compared with diffuse nebulae, planetary
compact appearance rather than the nebulae are small objects, having a radius
chaotic patchy shapes of other nebulae— typically of 1 light-year and containing a
hence their name, which was given mass of gas of about 0.3 solar mass. One
because of their resemblance to planetary of the largest-known planetary nebulae,
disks when viewed with the instruments the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) in the con-
of the late 1700s, when the first planetary stellation Aquarius, subtends an angle of
nebulae were discovered. about 20 minutes of arc—two-thirds the
There are believed to be about 20,000 angular size of the Moon. Planetary nebu-
objects called planetary nebulae in the lae are considerably denser than most H
Milky Way Galaxy, each representing gas II regions, typically containing 1,000–
expelled relatively recently from a central 10,000 atoms per cubic cm (1 cubic cm =
star very late in its evolution. Because of .06 in) within their dense regions, and
the obscuration of dust in the Galaxy, have a surface brightness 1,000 times
only about 1,800 planetary nebulae have larger. Many are so far away that they
been cataloged. Planetary nebulae are appear stellar when photographed
important sources of the gas in the inter- directly, but the conspicuous examples
stellar medium. have an angular size up to 20 minutes of
Nebulae | 149

arc across, with 10–30 seconds of arc being relatively cool (25,000 K) to some of the
usual. Those that show a bright disk have hottest known (200,000 K).
much more-regular forms than the chaotic In the nebulae with hot stars, most
H II regions, but there are still usually of the helium is doubly ionized, and appre-
some brightness fluctuations over the disk. ciable amounts of five-times-ionized
The planetaries generally have regular, oxygen and argon and four-times-ionized
sharp outer boundaries; often they have a neon exist. In H II regions helium is
relatively regular inner boundary as well, mainly once ionized and neon and argon
giving them the appearance of a ring. only once or twice. This difference in
Many have two lobes of bright material, the states of the atoms results from the
resembling arcs of a circle, connected by a temperature of the planetary nucleus (up
bridge, somewhat resembling the letter Z. to about 150,000 K), which is much higher
Most planetaries show a central star, than that of the exciting star of the H II
called the nucleus, which provides the regions (less than 60,000 K for an O star,
ultraviolet radiation required for ionizing the hottest). High stages of ionization are
the gas in the ring or shell surrounding it. found close to the central star. The rare
Those stars are among the hottest known heavy ions, rather than hydrogen, absorb
and are in a state of comparatively rapid the photons of several hundred electron
evolution. volt energies. Beyond a certain distance
As with H II regions, the overall from the central star, all the photons of
structural regularity conceals large-scale energy sufficient to ionize a given species
fluctuations in density, temperature, of ion have been absorbed, and that spe-
and chemical composition. High- cies therefore cannot exist farther out.
resolution images of a planetary nebula Detailed theoretical calculations have
usually reveal tiny knots and filaments rather successfully predicted the spectra
down to the resolution limit. The spec- of the best-observed nebulae.
trum of the planetary nebula is basically The spectra of planetary nebulae reveal
the same as that of the H II region; it another interesting fact: they are expand-
contains bright lines from hydrogen ing from the central star at 24–56 km
and helium recombinations and the (15–35 miles) per second. The gravitational
bright, collisionally excited forbidden pull of the star is quite small at the dis-
lines and faint recombination lines of tance of the shell from the star, so the
other ions. (Recombination is the pro- shell will continue its expansion until it
cess by which the higher stage of finally merges with the interstellar gas
ionization captures an electron [usually around it. The expansion is proportional
at low energies] into a high level of the to the distance from the central star, con-
ion.) The central stars show a much sistent with the entire mass of gas having
greater range of temperatures than been ejected at one brief period from the
those in H II regions, ranging from star in some sort of instability.
150 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The Distances of 30,000 years, after which the nebula is so

Planetary Nebulae tenuous that it cannot be distinguished
from the surrounding interstellar gas.
Estimating the distance to any particular This lifetime is much shorter than the
planetary nebula is challenging because lifetimes of the parent stars, so the nebu-
of the variety of shapes and masses of the lar phase is relatively brief.
ionized gas. There is uncertainty about
the amount of ionizing radiation from the Chemical Composition
central star that escapes from the nebula
and the amount of hot low-density mate- Planetary nebulae are chemically
rial that fills part of the volume but does enriched in elements produced by nuclear
not emit appreciable radiation. Thus, processing within the central star. Some
planetary nebulae are not a homogeneous are carbon-rich, with twice as much car-
class of objects. bon as oxygen, while there is more oxygen
Distances are estimated by obtaining than carbon in the Sun. Others are over-
measurements for about 40 objects that abundant in nitrogen; the most luminous
happen to have especially favourable ones, observed in external galaxies, are
properties. The favourable properties conspicuous examples. Helium is mod-
involve association with other objects estly enhanced in many. There are objects
whose distance can be estimated inde- that contain almost no hydrogen; it is as
pendently, such as membership in a if the gas had been ejected from these
stellar cluster or association with a star of object at the very end of the nuclear-
known properties. Statistical methods, burning process. Planetary nebulae also
calibrated by these objects, provide rough show a clear indication of the general
estimates (about 30 percent errors) of heavy-element abundance gradient in
distances for all others. The statistical the Galaxy, presumably a reflection of the
method involves assuming that all shells original composition of the stars that
have similar masses when all of the shell gave rise to the present nebulae.
is ionized and correcting for the fraction As in the case of H II regions, plane-
that is neutral for the rest. tary nebulae show discrepancies between
From the best available distance the determinations of abundances of
determination, the true size of any nebula heavy elements from faint recombination
can be found from its angular size. lines as opposed to those determined
Typically, planetary nebulae are a few from collisionally excited lines, but in a
tenths of a light-year in radius. If this dis- much more severe form. There are some
tance is divided by the expansion speed, nebulae for which the two methods give
the age of the nebula since ejection is the same abundances. However, the most
obtained. Values range up to roughly extreme discrepancies are factors of 30 or
Nebulae | 151

more in the oxygen abundances. Perhaps Positions in the Galaxy

this wild variation in planetary nebulae is
not surprising, since they surely have One of the best indicators of the average
regions of material that are strongly age of astronomical objects is their position
enriched in heavy elements and deficient and motion in the Galaxy. The youngest
in hydrogen. These regions originate in are in the spiral arms, near the gas from
the complicated nuclear processing of the which they have formed; the oldest are
expelled material ejected from the evolved not concentrated in the plane of the
central star. They would have strong cool- Galaxy, nor are they found within the spi-
ing from the heavy-element emissions ral arms. By these criteria, the planetaries
and thus much lower temperatures than reveal themselves to be rather middle-
the regions of normal composition. These aged; they are moderately but not strongly
regions would contribute very little to the concentrated in the plane; rather, they are
hydrogen emission lines because they concentrated toward the galactic centre,
are hydrogen-poor. as the older objects are. Their motions in
Some, but not all, planetary nebulae the Galaxy follow elliptical paths, whereas
contain internal dust. In general, this dust circular orbits are characteristic of
cannot be seen directly but can be younger stars. They belong to the type of
detected from the infrared radiation it distribution often called a “disk popula-
emits after being heated by nebular and tion,” to distinguish them from the
stellar radiation. The presence of dust Population II (very old) and Population I
implies that planetary nebulae are even (young) objects proposed by the German
richer in heavy elements than gas-phase American astronomer Walter Baade.
abundance studies suggest. There is a wide variation in the ages of
Among nebulae so far discovered, planetaries, and some are very young
two are particularly deviant in chemical objects.
composition: one is in the globular clus-
ter M15 and the other in the halo (tenuous Evolution of
outer regions) of the Galaxy. Both have Planetary Nebulae
very low heavy-element content (down
from normal by factors of about 50) but A description of the evolution of a plane-
normal helium. Both objects are very old, tary nebula begins before the ejection of
suggesting that the primeval gas in the the nebula itself. As will be discussed
Galaxy had a low heavy-element content below, the central star is a red giant before
but an almost normal amount of helium. the ejection. In such a phase it experi-
The origin of most helium in the Galaxy ences a rapid loss of mass, up to 0.01
was the big bang, the initial explosion of Earth mass per day, in the form of a com-
the universe itself. paratively slowly expanding stellar wind.
152 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

At this stage the red giant might be heav- the gas is mingled with the general inter-
ily obscured by dust that forms from the stellar gas. A curious feature of several
heavy elements in the wind. Eventually planetaries is that faint rings surround-
the nature of both the star and its wind ing the bright inner nebula can be
changes. The star becomes hotter because observed; they are the remnants of a pre-
its hot core is exposed by the loss of the vious shell ejected earlier by the star.
overlying atmosphere. The inner gas is
ionized by radiation from the hot star. Central Stars
The ionization zone moves steadily out-
ward through the slowly moving material Many central stars are known from their
of what was formerly the stellar wind. The spectra to be very hot. A common type of
expansion speed of the gas is typically 30 spectrum has very broad emission lines
km (19 miles) per second. Nebulae in this of carbon or nitrogen, as well as of ion-
stage are bright but have starlike images ized helium, superimposed upon a bluish
as seen from Earth, because they are too continuum. These spectra are indistin-
small to show a disk. The gas is at a rela- guishable from those from the very bright
tively high density—about one million rare stars known as Wolf-Rayet stars, but
atoms per cubic centimetre (1 cubic cm = the planetary nuclei are about 100 times
.06 cubic in)—but becomes more dilute as fainter than true Wolf-Rayet objects. The
the gas expands. During this stage the stars appear to be losing some mass at the
nebula is surrounded by neutral hydro- present time, though evidently not enough
gen. It appears to expand faster than the to contribute appreciably to the shell.
individual atoms of gas in it are moving; The presence of the nebula allows a
the ionized shell is “eating into” the neu- fairly precise determination of the central
tral material as the density falls. star’s evolution. The temperature of the
The middle stage of evolution occurs star can be estimated from the nebula
when the density has dropped to the from the amounts of emission of ionized
point at which the entire mass of gas is helium and hydrogen by a method
ionized. After this stage is reached, some devised by the Dutch astronomer H.
of the ultraviolet radiation escapes into Zanstra. The amount of ionized-helium
space, and the expansion of the nebula is radiation is determined by the number of
caused entirely by the motion of the gas. photons with energy of more than 54
Most planetaries are now in this middle electron volts, while hydrogen is ionized
stage. Finally the central star becomes by photons in excess of 13.6 electron
less luminous and can no longer provide volts. The relative numbers of photons
enough ultraviolet radiation to keep even in the two groups depend strongly on
the dilute nebula ionized. Once again the temperature, since the spectrum shifts
outer regions of the nebula become neu- dramatically to higher energies as the
tral and therefore invisible. Eventually temperature of the star increases. Hence,
Nebulae | 153

the temperature can be found from the stars. It then cools and after about 10,000
observed strengths of the hydrogen and years becomes a very dense white dwarf
helium lines. The rate of evolution of the star, scarcely larger than Earth but with a
stars can be determined from the sizes of density of thousands of kilograms per
their nebulae, as the time since ejection cubic centimetre (1 cubic cm = .06 cubic
of the shell is the radius of the nebula in). From this point it cools very slowly,
divided by the expansion rate. The energy becoming redder and fainter indefinitely.
output, or luminosity, of the central star While there is not yet a very detailed
can be estimated from the brightness of theoretical picture of this contraction, a
the nebula, because the nebula is con- few results have emerged rather clearly:
verting the star’s invisible ultraviolet (1) white dwarf stars must obtain nearly
radiation (which contains the greater part all their energy from the contraction
of the star’s luminous energy) into visible noted above, not from nuclear sources;
radiation. therefore, (2) they must contain practically
The resulting theoretical description no hydrogen or helium, except perhaps in
of the star’s evolution is quite interesting. a very thin shell on their surfaces. These
While there seem to be real differences in conditions would have to be met for the
stars at a given stage, the trends are quite evolution to take place so quickly.
clear. The central stars in young planetary The absence of hydrogen in the star’s
nebulae are about as hot as the massive interior is quite surprising; the planetary
O and B stars—35,000–40,000 K—but nebulae are all found to have a normal
roughly 10 times fainter. They have half hydrogen abundance of about 1,000 times
the diameter of the Sun but are 1,000 as many hydrogen atoms as heavy ele-
times as luminous. As the nebula expands, ments, such as oxygen. Thus, it can be
the star increases its brightness and tem- concluded that the mechanism of expul-
perature, but its radius decreases steadily. sion of the envelope must be very efficient
It reaches a maximum energy output at ejecting the hydrogen-rich outer layers
when it is roughly 10,000 times as lumi- of a star while leaving heavy-element-
nous as the Sun, about 5,000 years after rich material behind.
the initial expansion. This is a very small
fraction of the star’s age of several billion The Nature of the
years; it represents a period equivalent to Progenitor Stars
about half an hour in a human life. From
this point on, the star becomes fainter, The progenitor must have mass not much
but for some time the temperature con- in excess of a solar mass because of the
tinues to increase while the shrinkage of distribution of the planetaries in the Gal­
the star continues. At its hottest the star axy. Very massive stars are young and
is perhaps 200,000 K, almost five times more closely confined than are nebulae
hotter than the hottest of most of the to the galactic plane. Also, the mass of the
154 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

nebula is roughly 0.3 solar mass, and the later phase occurs when convection car-
mass of a typical white dwarf (the final ries carbon, the product of helium
state of the central star) is roughly 0.7 burning, to the surface.
solar mass. Next, the expansion velocity
of the nebula is probably comparable to Supernova Remnants
the velocity of escape from its progenitor,
which implies that the progenitor was a Like the planetary nebulae, supernova
red giant star, large and cool, completely remnants are clouds left behind by a
unlike the small, hot, blue, nuclear star dying star. In this case, a star goes super-
remaining after the ejection. Likely can- nova, a spectacular explosion in which a
didates are members of the class of star ejects most of its mass in a violently
long-period variable stars, which have expanding cloud of debris. At the bright-
about the right size and mass and are est phase of the explosion, the expanding
known to be unstable. Symbiotic stars cloud radiates as much energy in a single
(i.e., stars with characteristics of both day as the Sun has done in the past three
cool giants and very hot stars) also are million years. Such explosions occur
candidates. Novae, stars that brighten roughly every 50 years within a large
temporarily while ejecting a shell explo- galaxy. They have been observed less
sively, are definitely not candidates; the frequently in the Milky Way Galaxy
nova shell is expanding at hundreds of because most of them have been hidden
kilometres per second. by the obscuring clouds of dust. Galactic
The cause of the ejection is the out- supernovae were observed in 1006 in
ward force of radiation on the outer layers Lupus, in 1054 in Taurus, in 1572 in Cas­
of red giant stars. The ejection is trig- siopeia (Tycho’s nova, named after Tycho
gered by a rapid variation in the nuclear Brahe, its observer), and finally in 1604 in
luminosity in the interior of the giant, Serpens, called Kepler’s nova. The stars
caused by instability in the helium-burn- became bright enough to be visible in the
ing shell. The ejection takes place during daytime.
more than one phase of the giant’s evolu- The only naked-eye supernova to
tion. Nitrogen-rich nebulae develop occur since 1604 was Supernova 1987A in
during an early episode when convection the Large Magellanic Cloud (the galaxy
inside the star carries nitrogen, produced nearest to the Milky Way system), visible
from carbon in a series of nuclear reac- only from the Southern Hemisphere. On
tions (i.e., the carbon-nitrogen cycle of Feb. 23, 1987, a blue supergiant star bright-
hydrogen burning), to the surface. A later ened to gradually become third magnitude,
ejection takes place with an enrichment easily visible at night, and it has subse-
of both nitrogen and helium, which also quently been followed in every wavelength
is produced by hydrogen burning. A still band available to scientists. The spectrum
Nebulae | 155

within the molecular cloud in

which it formed, the expand-
ing remnant might compress
the surrounding interstellar
gas and trigger subsequent
star formation. The remnants
contain strong shock waves
that create filaments of mate-
rial emitting gamma-ray
photons with energies up to
1014 electron volts and acceler-
ating electrons and atomic
nuclei up to cosmic-ray ener-
gies, from 109 up to 1015
electron volts per particle. In
the solar neighbourhood,
A small part of the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant,
these cosmic rays carry about
which marks the edge of an expanding blast wave from
an enormous stellar explosion that occurred about as much energy per cubic
10,000 years ago. The remnant is located in the con- metre as starlight in the plane
stellation Cygnus, the Swan. National Aeronautics and of the galaxy, and they carry it
Space Administration to thousands of light-years
above the plane.
Much of the radiation from
showed hydrogen lines expanding at supernova remnants is synchrotron radi-
12,000 km per second (7,456 miles per ation, which is produced by electrons
second), followed by a long period of slow spiraling in a magnetic field at almost the
decline. There are 270 known supernova speed of light. This radiation is dramati-
remnants, almost all observed by their cally different from the emission from
strong radio emission, which can pene- electrons moving at low speeds: it is (1)
trate the obscuring dust in the galaxy. strongly concentrated in the forward
Supernova remnants are very impor- direction, (2) spread out over a broad
tant to the structure of galaxies. They range of frequencies, with the average
are a major source of heating of inter- frequency increasing with the electron’s
stellar gas by means of the magnetic energy, and (3) highly polarized. Electrons
turbulence and violent shocks that they of many different energies produce
produce. They are the main source of radiation at essentially all wavelengths,
most heavy elements, from oxygen on from radio through infrared, optical, and
up. If the exploding massive star is still ultraviolet up to X- and gamma rays.
156 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

About 50 supernova remnants con- that is comparable to or greater than its

tain pulsars, the spinning neutron star own; the expansion has by then slowed
remnants of the former massive star. The substantially. The dense material, mostly
name comes from the exceedingly regu- interstellar at its outer edge, radiates
larly pulsed radiation that propagates away its remaining energy for hundreds
into space in a narrow beam that sweeps of thousands of years. The final phase is
past the observer similarly to the beam reached when the pressure within the
from a lighthouse. There are several rea- supernova remnant becomes comparable
sons why most supernova remnants do to the pressure of the interstellar medium
not contain visible pulsars. Perhaps the outside the remnant, so the remnant loses
original pulsar was ejected because its distinct identity. In the later stages of
there was a recoil from an asymmetrical expansion, the magnetic field of the gal-
explosion, or the supernova formed a axy is important in determining the
black hole instead of a pulsar, or the beam motions of the weakly expanding gas.
of the rotating pulsar does not sweep past Even after the bulk of the material has
the solar system. merged with the local interstellar medium,
Supernova remnants evolve through there might be remaining regions of very
four stages as they expand. At first, they hot gas that produce soft X-rays (i.e.,
expand so violently that they simply those of a few hundred electron volts)
sweep all older interstellar material observable locally.
before them, acting as if they were The recent galactic supernovae
expanding into a vacuum. The shocked observed are in the first phases of the
gas, heated to millions of kelvins by the evolution suggested above. At the sites of
explosion, does not radiate its energy Kepler’s and Tycho’s novae, there exist
very well and is readily visible only in heavy obscuring clouds, and the optical
X-rays. This stage typically lasts several objects remaining are now inconspicu-
hundred years, after which time the shell ous knots of glowing gas. Near Tycho’s
has a radius of about 10 light-years. As nova, in Cassiopeia, there are similar
the expansion occurs, little energy is lost, optically insignificant wisps that appear
but the temperature falls because the to be remnants of yet another supernova
same energy is spread into an ever-larger explosion. To a radio telescope, however,
volume. The lower temperature favours the situation is spectacularly different: the
more emission, and during the second Cassiopeia remnant is the strongest radio
phase the supernova remnant radiates its source in the entire sky. Study of this
energy at the outermost, coolest layers. remnant, called Cassiopeia A, reveals that
This phase can last thousands of years. a supernova explosion occurred there in
The third stage occurs after the shell has approximately 1680, missed by observers
swept up a mass of interstellar material because of the obscuring dust.
Nebulae | 157

The Crab Nebula bluish amorphous inner region of the

Crab Nebula is radiating synchrotron
At the site of the 1054 supernova is one of radiation, and the spectrum extends up to
the most remarkable objects in the sky, gamma-ray energies. The Crab is the
the Crab Nebula, now about 10 light-years second brightest X-ray source in the sky,
across. Photographed in colour, it is after Scorpius X-1 (an X-ray binary star).
revealed as a beautiful red lacy network After almost 1,000 years, the nebula is
of long and sinuous glowing hydrogen still losing 100,000 times as much energy
filaments surrounding a bluish structure- per second as the Sun.
less region whose light is strongly On the basis of this huge outpouring
polarized. The filaments emit the spec- of energy, it is easy to calculate how long
trum characteristic of a diffuse nebula. the nebula can shine without a new sup-
The gas is expanding at 1,100 km (700 ply of energy. The electrons emitting the
miles) per second—slower than the X-rays should decay, or drop to lower
10,000–20,000 km per second in the shells energies, in about 30 years—far less than
of new supernovae in other galaxies. The the age of the nebula. The source of
energy of the electrons that
emit the X-rays was discovered
in 1969 to be a pulsar, which
has been found to flash opti-
cally, as well as at radio
wavelengths, blinking on and
off with a period of 0.033 sec-
ond. This period is slowly
increasing (at the rate of 0.0012
second per century), which
implies that the pulsar is slow-
ing down and thereby losing
its energy to the nebula. The
corresponding rate of energy
loss is about equal to the neb-
ula’s rate of energy loss,
convincing evidence that a
The Crab Nebula (M1, NGC 1952) in the constellation
tiny, extremely dense pulsar
Taurus is a gaseous remnant of the galactic supernova
can supply the energy to the
of 1054 CE. The nebula, 6,500 light-years away, is
nebula. The Crab Nebula is
expanding at 1,100 km (700 miles) per second. Hale
Observatories © 1959 unique in being a young super-
nova remnant and relatively
158 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

free from obscuration, while Tycho’s and small clouds of denser material; many
Kepler’s supernovae are conspicuous lines of reasoning from other evidence
radio sources, radiating by synchrotron lead to the same result. The present speed
emission; in neither case has a detectable of the filaments is about 100 km per second
pulsar been found. (62 miles per second); the approximate
age of the Cygnus Loop is 10,000 years.
The Cygnus Loop
Diffuse ionized gas
The best-observed old supernova rem-
nant is the Cygnus Loop (or the Veil A major component of the interstellar
Nebula), a beautiful filamentary object medium, or the warm ionized medium
roughly in the form of a circular arc in (WIM), is the diffuse ionized gas, dilute
Cygnus. Its patchiness is striking: the interstellar material that makes up about
loop consists of a series of wisps rather 90 percent of the ionized gas in the Milky
than a continuous cloud of gas. The most Way Galaxy. It produces a faint emission-
likely interpretation of this patchiness is line spectrum that is seen in every
that the interstellar medium into which direction. It was first detected from a thin
the shock wave is propagating contains haze of electrons that affect radio radia-
tion passing through the Milky Way
Galaxy. Similar layers are now seen in
many other galaxies. The American
astronomer Ronald Reynolds and his col-
laborators have mapped ionized hydrogen
and a few other ions (N+, S+, and O++). The
total power required for the ionization is
amazingly large: about 15 percent of the
luminosity of all O and B stars. This energy
output is about equal to the total power
provided by supernovae, but the latter
radiate most of their energy either in non-
ionizing radiation or in providing kinetic
energies to their expanding shells. Other
potential energy sources fall far short.
Unlike H II regions, the diffuse ion-
Veil Nebula (NGC 6992) in the constella-
ized gas is found far from the galactic
tion Cygnus, which glows as it collides
plane as well as close to it. Pulsars (spin-
with dust and gas in interstellar space.
ning neutron stars emitting pulsed radio
Palomar Observatory; photograph © Cal-
ifornia Institute of Technology 1959 waves) occasionally reside at large dis-
tances from the plane and emit radio
Nebulae | 159

waves. The electrons in the diffuse ion- NOTABLE NEBuLAE

ized gas slow these waves slightly in a
manner that depends on the frequency, Nearly all nebulae are beautiful objects
allowing observers to determine the when seen up close, through a tele-
number of electrons per square metre (1 scope. Some of the most notable
square metre = 10.8 square feet) on the nebulae also are fascinating subjects
path to the pulsar. These observations when considered in depth, with attention
show that the diffuse ionized gas extends to detail.
more than 3,000 light-years above and
below the galactic plane, which is much Cassiopeia A
farther than the 300-light-year thickness
of distributions of molecular clouds, H II Cassiopeia A is the strongest source of
regions, and O and B stars. radio emission in the sky beyond the
On average, the densities of the elec- solar system, located in the direction of
trons are only about 0.05 per cubic cm (a the constellation Cassiopeia about 9,000
fifth of the average density in the galactic light-years from Earth. Cassiopeia A,
plane), and only 10 to 20 percent of the abbreviated Cas A, is the remnant of a
volume is occupied by gas even at this supernova explosion caused by the col-
low density. The rest of the volume can be lapse of a massive star. The light from the
filled by very hot, even lower density gas
or by magnetic pressure. In the diffuse
ionized gas, the comparatively low stages
of ionization of the common elements
(O+, N+, and S+) are much more abundant
relative to higher stages (O++, N++, and S++)
than in typical diffuse nebulae. Such an
effect is caused by the extremely low den-
sity of the diffuse ionized gas; in this case,
even hot stars fail to produce high stages
of ionization. Thus, it seems possible to
explain the peculiar ionization of the dif-
fuse ionized gas with ionization powered
by O and B stars, which are mostly found
in the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Apparently the stars are able to ionize Cassiopeia A supernova remnant, in a composite
image synthesized from observations gathered in
passages through the clouds enveloping
different spectral regions by three space-based
them so that a substantial part of the ion-
observatories. NASA/JPL/California Institute of
izing radiation can escape into the regions Technology
far from the galactic plane.
160 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

event is estimated to have reached Earth through about one-third of their extent.
about 1667, which makes Cas A the From the constellation Cygnus, the rift
youngest known supernova remnant in reaches through Aquila and Sagittarius,
the Milky Way Galaxy. Although the where the centre of the Galaxy lies hid-
explosion must have been very powerful, den behind it, to Centaurus. The clouds
no contemporary record exists of its hav- of dark material making up the Great Rift
ing been observed, so the explosion may are several thousand light-years from
have happened behind an interstellar the Earth.
dust cloud. Today the remnant is also
weakly observable at visible, infrared, Gum Nebula
and X-ray wavelengths, and it appears as
an expanding ring of material approxi- The largest known emission nebula in
mately five arc minutes in diameter. The terms of angular diameter as seen from
expansion rate of the remnant has been Earth is the Gum Nebula, which extends
used to estimate how long ago the explo- about 35° in the southern constellations
sion occurred. Puppis and Vela. A complex of diffuse,
glowing gas too faint to be seen with
Coalsack the unaided eye, it was discovered by the
Australian-born astrophysicist Colin S.
The Coalsack is a dark nebula in the Crux Gum, who published his findings in 1955.
constellation (Southern Cross). Easily The Gum Nebula lies roughly 1,000 light-
visible against a starry background, it is years from Earth and is about 1,000
perhaps the most conspicuous dark neb- light-years in diameter. It may be the
ula. Starlight coming to Earth through it remnant of an ancient supernova—i.e.,
is reduced by 1 to 1.5 magnitudes. The violently exploding star.
Coalsack is about 500 light-years from
Earth and 50 light-years in diameter. It fig- Horsehead Nebula
ures in legends of peoples of the Southern
Hemisphere and has been known to Euro­ The Horsehead Nebula (catalog number
peans since about 1500. The Northern IC 434) is an H II region in the constella-
Coalsack, in the constellation Cygnus, is tion Orion. The nebula consists of a cloud
similar in nature and appearance but of ionized gas lit from within by young, hot
somewhat less prominent. stars; a dark cloud containing interstellar
dust lies immediately in front. The dust
Great Rift absorbs the light from part of the ionized
cloud. A portion of this dark cloud has a
The Great Rift is a complex of dark nebu- shape somewhat resembling a horse’s
lae that seems to divide the bright clouds head. The nebula is located 400 parsecs
of the Milky Way Galaxy lengthwise (1,300 light-years) from the Sun. It has a
Nebulae | 161

diameter of approximately
4 parsecs (13 light-years)
and a total mass of about
250 solar masses.

Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula (cata-

log numbers NGC 6523
and M8) is an H II region
located in the constellation
Sagittarius at 1,250 parsecs
(4,080 light-years) from the
solar system. The nebula is
a cloud of interstellar gas
and dust approximately 10
parsecs (33 light-years) in
diameter. A group of young,
hot stars in the cloud ion-
ize the nearby gas. As the
atoms in the gas recom- Lagoon Nebula (M8, NGC 6523) in the constellation
bine, they produce the light Sagittarius. This bright diffuse nebula is so large that light
emitted by the nebula. from the stars involved does not penetrate its boundaries,
and the bright nebula appears to be seen against a larger,
Interstellar dust within the
darker one. Palomar Observatory; photograph © California
nebula absorbs some of
Institute of Technology 1961
this light and appears
almost to divide the nebula,
thus producing a lagoonlike shape. America, with the dusty region being
shaped like the Gulf of Mexico. The North
North American Nebula American Nebula is approximately 520
parsecs (1,700 light-years) from the Sun.
The North American Nebula (NGC 7000) It has a diameter of about 30 parsecs (100
is an ionized-hydrogen region in the con- light-years) and a total mass equal to
stellation Cygnus. The nebula is a cloud about 4,000 solar masses.
of interstellar gas ionized from within by
young, hot stars. Interstellar dust particles Orion Nebula
in part of this cloud absorb the light emit-
ted by recombining atoms. The shape of The bright diffuse Orion Nebula is faintly
the nebula roughly resembles that of North visible to the unaided eye in the sword of
162 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the hunter’s figure in the constellation erratically, reflecting or re-radiating energy

Orion. The nebula lies about 1,350 light- from the star.
years from Earth and contains hundreds
of very hot (O-type) young stars clustered Ring Nebula
about a nexus of four massive stars known
as the Trapezium. Radiation from these The Ring Nebula (catalog numbers NGC
stars excites the nebula to glow. It was 6720 and M57) is a bright planetary neb-
discovered in 1610 by the French scholar ula in the constellation Lyra, about 2,300
Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc and light-years from the Earth. It was discov-
independently in 1618 by the Swiss ered in 1779 by the French astronomer
astronomer Johann Cysat. It was the first Augustin Darquier. Like other nebulae of
nebula to be photographed (1880), by its type, it is a sphere of glowing gas
Henry Draper in the United States. thrown off by a central star. Seen from a
Images of the nebula continued to great distance, such a sphere appears
improve, and technological advances in brighter at the edge than at the centre
the late 1980s enabled scientists to pho- and thus takes on the appearance of a
tograph infrared-emitting objects in the luminous ring. It is a popular object for
Orion Nebula that had never before been amateur astronomers.
observed optically. The Hubble Space
Telescope in 1991 revealed the sharpest Trifid Nebula
details yet available of known features of
the nebula, including what appeared to be The Trifid Nebula (catalog numbers
a jet (an energetic outflow) related to the NGC 6514 and M 20) is a bright, diffuse
birth of a young star. nebula in the constellation Sagittarius,
lying several thousand light-years from
R Monocerotis the Earth. It was discovered by the
French astronomer Legentil de La
R Monocerotis (NGC 2261) is a stellar Galaisière before 1750 and named by the
infrared source and nebula in the constel- English astronomer Sir John Herschel
lation Monoceros (Greek: Unicorn). The for the three dark rifts that seem to divide
star, one of the class of dwarf stars called the nebula and join at its centre. Of
T Tauri variables, is immersed in a cloud about the ninth magnitude optically,
of matter that changes in brightness the Trifid is also a radio source.

T he Milky Way Galaxy is just one of many galaxies, the

systems of stars and interstellar matter that make up
the universe. Many galaxies are so enormous that they
contain hundreds of billions of stars.
Nature has provided an immensely varied array of galax-
ies, ranging from faint, diffuse dwarf objects to brilliant
spiral-shaped giants. Virtually all galaxies appear to have
been formed soon after the universe began, and they pervade
space, even into the depths of the farthest reaches penetrated
by powerful modern telescopes. Galaxies usually exist in
clusters, some of which in turn are grouped into larger clus-
ters that measure hundreds of millions of light-years across.
These so-called superclusters are separated by nearly empty
voids, and this causes the gross structure of the universe to
look somewhat like a network of sheets and chains of
Galaxies differ from one another in shape, with variations
resulting from the way in which the systems were formed and
subsequently evolved. Galaxies are extremely varied not only
in structure but also in the amount of activity observed. Some
are the sites of vigorous star formation, with its attendant
glowing gas and clouds of dust and molecular complexes.
Others, by contrast, are quiescent, having long ago ceased to
form new stars. Perhaps the most conspicuous activity in
galaxies occurs in their nuclei, where evidence suggests that
164 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

The Whirlpool Galaxy (left), also known as M51, an Sc galaxy accompanied by a small, irreg-
ular companion galaxy, NGC 5195 (right). NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble
Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

in many cases supermassive objects— then, however, galaxies have become one
probably black holes—lurk. These central of the focal points of astronomical inves-
black holes apparently formed several tigation. The notable developments and
billion years ago; they are now observed achievements in the study of galaxies are
forming in galaxies at large distances surveyed here. Included in the discussion
(and, therefore, because of the time it are the external galaxies (i.e., those lying
takes light to travel to Earth, at times in outside the Milky Way Galaxy, the local
the far distant past) as brilliant objects galaxy to which the Sun and Earth
called quasars. belong), their distribution in clusters and
The existence of galaxies was not rec- superclusters, and the evolution of galax-
ognized until the early 20th century. Since ies and quasars.
Galaxies | 165

The evolution of galaxies ionized by radiation, structure apparently

had already been established in the form
The study of the origin and evolution of of density fluctuations. At a crucial point
galaxies and the quasar phenomenon has in time, there condensed from the expand-
only just begun. Many models of galaxy ing matter small clouds (protogalaxies)
formation and evolution have been con- that could collapse under their own gravi-
structed on the basis of what we know tational field eventually to form galaxies.
about conditions in the early universe, For the latter half of the 20th century,
which is in turn based on models of the there were two competing models of gal-
expansion of the universe after the big axy formation: “top-down” and “bottom-up.”
bang (the primordial explosion from In the top-down model, galaxies formed
which the universe is thought to have out of the collapse of much larger gas
originated) and on the characteristics of clouds. In the bottom-up model, galaxies
the cosmic microwave background (the formed from the merger of smaller enti-
observed photons that show us the light- ties that were the size of globular clusters.
filled universe as it was when it was a few In both models the angular momentum
hundred thousand years old). of the original clouds determined the
According to the big-bang model, the form of the galaxy that eventually evolved.
universe expanded rapidly from a highly It is thought that a protogalaxy with a
compressed primordial state, which large amount of angular momentum
resulted in a significant decrease in den- tended to form a flat, rapidly rotating sys-
sity and temperature. Soon afterward, the tem (a spiral galaxy), whereas one with
dominance of matter over antimatter (as very little angular momentum developed
observed today) may have been estab- into a more nearly spherical system (an
lished by processes that also predict elliptical galaxy).
proton decay. During this stage many The transition from the 20th to the
types of elementary particles may have 21st century coincided with a dramatic
been present. After a few seconds, the transition in our understanding of the
universe cooled enough to allow the for- evolution of galaxies. It is no longer
mation of certain nuclei. The theory believed that galaxies have evolved
predicts that definite amounts of hydro- smoothly and alone. Indeed, it has become
gen, helium, and lithium were produced. clear that collisions between galaxies
Their abundances agree with what is have occurred all during their evolution—
observed today. About one million years and these collisions, far from being rare
later the universe was sufficiently cool for events, were the mechanism by which
atoms to form. galaxies developed in the distant past
When the universe had expanded to and are the means by which they are
be cool enough for matter to remain in changing their structure and appearance
neutral atoms without being instantly even now. Evidence for this new
166 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

understanding of galactic evolution “eaten” by the giant central galaxy, as

comes primarily from two sources: more well as clouds of M31 stars ejected by the
detailed studies of nearby galaxies with strong tidal forces of the collision.
new, more sensitive instruments and deep More spectacular are galaxies pres-
surveys of extremely distant galaxies, ently in the process of collision and
seen when the universe was young. accretion in the more distant, but still
Recent surveys of nearby galaxies, nearby, universe. The symptoms of the
including the Milky Way Galaxy, have collision are the distortion of the galax-
shown evidence of past collisions and ies’ shape (especially that of the spiral
capture of galaxies. For the Milky Way arms), the formation of giant arcs of stars
the most conspicuous example is the by tidal action, and the enhanced rate
Sagittarius Galaxy, which has been of star and star cluster formation. Some of
absorbed by our Galaxy. Now its stars lie the most massive and luminous young
spread out across the sky, its seven star clusters observed anywhere lie in the
globular clusters intermingling with the regions where two galaxies have come
globular clusters of the Milky Way Galaxy. together, with their gas and dust clouds
Long tails of stars around the Milky Way colliding and merging in a spectacular
were formed by the encounter and act as cosmic fireworks display.
clues to the geometry of the event. A sec- A second type of evidence for the fact
ond remnant galaxy, known as the Canis that galaxies grow by merging comes
Major Dwarf Galaxy, can also be traced from very deep surveys of the very dis-
by the detection of star streams in the tant universe, especially those carried out
outer parts of our Galaxy. These galaxies with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
support the idea that the Milky Way These surveys, especially the Hubble
Galaxy is a mix of pieces, formed by the Deep Field and the Hubble Ultra Deep
amalgamation of many smaller galaxies. Field, found galaxies so far away that the
The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) also light observed by the HST left them when
has a past involving collisions and accre- they were very young, only a few hundred
tion. Its peculiar close companion, M32, million years old. This enables the direct
shows a structure that indicates that it detection and measurement of young
was formerly a normal, more massive gal- galaxies as they were when the universe
axy that lost much of its outer parts and was young. The result is a view of a very
possibly all of its globular clusters to M31 different universe of galaxies. Instead of
in a past encounter. Deep surveys of the giant elliptical galaxies and grand spirals,
outer parts of the Andromeda Galaxy the universe in its early years was popu-
have revealed huge coherent structures lated with small, irregular objects that
of star streams and clouds, with proper- looked like mere fragments. These were
ties indicating that these include the the building blocks that eventually
outer remnants of smaller galaxies formed bigger galaxies such as the Milky
Galaxies | 167

Way. Many show active formation of stars especially successful in mimicking gal-
that are deficient in heavy elements axy collisions and in helping to explain
because many of the heavy elements had the presence of various tidal arms and
not yet been created when these stars jets observed by astronomers.
were formed. In summary, the current view of
The rate of star formation in these galactic history is that present-day galax-
early times was significant, but it did not ies are a mix of giant objects that accreted
reach a peak until about one billion years lesser galaxies in their vicinities, espe-
later. Galaxies from this time show a max- cially early in the formation of the
imum in the amount of excited hydrogen, universe, together with some remnant
which indicates a high rate of star forma- lesser, or dwarf, galaxies that have not yet
tion, as young, very hot stars are necessary come close enough to a more massive
for exciting interstellar hydrogen so that galaxy to be captured. The expansion of
it can be detected. Since that time, so the universe gradually decreases the like-
much matter has been locked up in stars lihood of such captures, so some of the
(especially white dwarfs) that not enough dwarfs may survive to old age—eventu-
interstellar dust and gas are available ally dying, like their giant cousins, when
to achieve such high rates of star all of their stars become dim white dwarfs
formation. or black holes and slowly disappear.
An important development that has
helped our understanding of the way gal- Historical survey of the
axies form is the great success of computer study of galaxies
simulations. High-speed calculations of
the gravitational history of assemblages Most nebulae look as amorphous and
of stars, interstellar matter, and dark ephemeral as clouds in the sky. However,
matter suggest that after the big bang the in 1845, the Irish astronomer William
universe developed as a networklike Parsons discovered that some nebulae
arrangement of material, with gradual had a spiral shape. Why did these objects
condensation of masses where the strands have such a well-ordered appearance?
of the network intersected. In simulations The dispute over the nature of what
of this process, massive galaxies form, were once termed spiral nebulae stands
but each is surrounded by a hundred or as one of the most significant in the devel-
so smaller objects. The small objects may opment of astronomy. On this dispute
correspond to the dwarf galaxies, such as hinged the question of the magnitude of
those that surround the Milky Way Galaxy the universe: were we confined to a single,
but of which only a dozen or so remain, limited stellar system that lay embedded
the rest having presumably been accreted alone in empty space, or was our Milky
by the main galaxy. Such computer Way Galaxy just one of millions of galax-
models, called “n-body simulations,” are ies that pervaded space, stretching
168 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

beyond the vast distances probed by our seen from northern latitudes.) Moreover,
most powerful telescopes? How this ques- the irregular shapes of the objects and
tion arose, and how it was resolved, is an their numerous hot blue stars, star clusters,
important element in the development of and gas clouds did indeed make them
our prevailing view of the universe. resemble the southern Milky Way Galaxy.
Up until 1925, spiral nebulae and their The American astronomer Harlow
related forms had uncertain status. Some Shapley, noted for his far-reaching work
scientists, notably Heber D. Curtis of the on the size and structure of the Milky Way
United States and Knut Lundmark of Galaxy, was one of the first to appreciate
Sweden, argued that they might be the importance of the Magellanic Clouds
remote aggregates of stars similar in size in terms of the nature of spiral nebulae.
to the Milky Way Galaxy. Centuries ear- To gauge the distance of the Clouds, he
lier the German philosopher Immanuel made use of the period-luminosity (P-L)
Kant, among others, had suggested much relation discovered by Henrietta Leavitt
the same idea, but that was long before of the Harvard College Observatory. In
the tools were available to actually mea- 1912 Leavitt had found that there was a
sure distances and thus prove it. During close correlation between the periods of
the early 1920s astronomers were divided. pulsation (variations in light) and the
Although some deduced that spiral neb- luminosities (intrinsic, or absolute, bright-
ulae were actually extragalactic star nesses) of a class of stars called Cepheid
systems, there was evidence that con- variables in the Small Magellanic Cloud.
vinced many that such nebulae were local Leavitt’s discovery, however, was of little
clouds of material, possibly new solar practical value until Shapley worked out a
systems in the process of forming. calibration of the absolute brightnesses
of pulsating stars closely analogous to the
The Problem of the Cepheids, the so-called RR Lyrae variables.
Magellanic Clouds With this quantified form of the P-L rela-
tion, he was able to calculate the distances
It is now known that the nearest external to the Magellanic Clouds, determining
galaxies are the Magellanic Clouds, two that they were about 75,000 light-years
patchy irregular objects visible in the from Earth. The significance of the
skies of the Southern Hemisphere. For Clouds, however, continued to elude sci-
years, most experts who regarded the Mag­ entists of the time. For them, these objects
ellanic Clouds as portions of the Milky still seemed to be anomalous, irregular
Way Galaxy system separated from the patches of the Milky Way Galaxy, farther
main stream could not study them away than initially thought but not suffi-
because of their position. (Both cient to settle the question of the nature
Magellanic Clouds are too far south to be of the universe.
Galaxies | 169

Novae in the S Andromeda. If they were ordinary novae,

Andromeda Nebula then M31 must be millions of light-years
away, but then the nature of S Andromeda
An unfortunate misidentification ham- became a difficult question. At this vast
pered the early recognition of the distance its total luminosity would have
northern sky’s brightest nearby galaxy, to be immense—an incomprehensible out-
the Andromeda Nebula, also known as put of energy for a single star.
M31. In 1885 a bright star, previously Completion of the 254-cm (100-inch)
invisible, appeared near the centre of telescope on Mount Wilson in 1917
M31, becoming almost bright enough to resulted in a new series of photographs
be seen without a telescope. As it slowly that captured even fainter objects. More
faded again, astronomers decided that it novae were found in M31, mainly by
must be a nova, a “new star,” similar to Milton L. Humason, who was an assistant
the class of temporary stars found rela- at the time to Edwin P. Hubble, one of the
tively frequently in populous parts of the truly outstanding astronomers of the day.
Milky Way Galaxy. If this was the case, it Hubble eventually studied 63 of these
was argued, then its extraordinary bright- stars, and his findings proved to be one of
ness must indicate that M31 cannot be the final solutions to the controversy.
very far away, certainly not outside the
local system of stars. Designated S The Scale of the
Andromeda in conformity with the pat- Milky Way Galaxy
tern of terminology applied to stars of
variable brightness, this supposed nova At the same time that spiral nebulae were
was a strong argument in favour of the being studied and debated, the Milky Way
hypothesis that nebulae are nearby Galaxy became the subject of contentious
objects in the Milky Way Galaxy. discussion. During the early years of the
By 1910, however, there was evidence 20th century, most astronomers believed
that S Andromeda might have been that the Milky Way Galaxy was a disk-
wrongly identified. Deep photographs shaped system of stars with the Sun near
were being taken of M31 with the Mount the centre and with the edge along a thick
Wilson Observatory’s newly completed axis only about 15,000 light-years away.
152-cm (60-inch) telescope, and the This view was based on statistical evi-
astronomers at the observatory, especially dence involving star counts and the spatial
J.C. Duncan and George W. Ritchey, were distribution of a variety of cosmic objects—
finding faint objects, just resolved by the open star clusters, variable stars, binary
longest exposures, that also seemed to systems, and clouds of interstellar gas. All
behave like novae. These objects, how- these objects seemed to thin out at dis-
ever, were about 10,000 times fainter than tances of several thousand light-years.
170 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

This conception of the Milky Way variables of this type in any given glob-
Galaxy was challenged by Shapley in ular cluster have the same apparent
1917, when he released the findings of his brightness. If all RR Lyrae variables have
study of globular clusters. He had found the same intrinsic brightness, then it
that these spherically symmetrical groups follows that differences in apparent
of densely packed stars, as compared brightness must be due to different dis-
with the much closer open clusters, were tances from Earth. The final step in
unusual in their distribution. While the developing a procedure for determining
known open clusters are concentrated the distances of variables was to calcu-
heavily in the bright belt of the Milky late the distances of a handful of such
Way Galaxy, the globular clusters are for stars by an independent method so as to
the most part absent from those areas enable calibration. Shapley could not
except in the general direction of the con- make use of the trigonometric parallax
stellation Sagittarius, where there is a method, since there are no variables close
concentration of faint globular clusters. enough for direct distance measurement.
Shapley’s plot of the spatial distribution However, he had recourse to a technique
of these stellar groupings clarified this devised by the Danish astronomer Ejnar
peculiar fact: the centre of the globular Hertzsprung that could determine dis-
cluster system—a huge almost spherical tances to certain nearby field variables
cloud of clusters—lies in that direction, (i.e., those not associated with any partic-
some 30,000 light-years from the Sun. ular cluster) by using measurements of
Shapley assumed that this centre must their proper motions and the radial veloc-
also be the centre of the Milky Way ity of the Sun. Accurate measurements
Galaxy. The globular clusters, he argued, of the proper motions of the variables
form a giant skeleton around the disk of based on long-term observations were
the Milky Way Galaxy, and the system is available, and the Sun’s radial velocity
thus immensely larger than was previ- could be readily determined spectro-
ously thought, its total extent measuring scopically. Thus, by availing himself of
nearly 100,000 light-years. this body of data and adopting
Shapley succeeded in making the Hertzsprung’s method, Shapley was able
first reliable determination of the size of to obtain a distance scale for Cepheids in
the Milky Way Galaxy largely by using the solar neighbourhood.
Cepheids and RR Lyrae stars as distance Shapley applied the zero point of the
indicators. His approach was based on Cepheid distance scale to the globular
the P-L relation discovered by Leavitt and clusters he had studied with the 152-cm
on the assumption that all these variables (60-inch) telescope at Mount Wilson.
have the same P-L relation. As he saw it, Some of these clusters contained RR
this assumption was most likely true in Lyrae variables, and for these Shapley
the case of the RR Lyrae stars, because all could calculate distances in
Galaxies | 171

a straightforward manner from the P-L that, if the Milky Way Galaxy was so
relation. For other globular clusters he immense, then the spiral nebulae must
made distance determinations, using a lie within it. His conviction was rein-
relationship that he discovered between forced by two lines of evidence. One of
the brightnesses of the RR Lyrae stars these has already been mentioned—the
and the brightness of the brightest red nova S Andromeda was so bright as to
stars. For still others he made use of suggest that the Andromeda Nebula most
apparent diameters, which he found to be certainly was only a few hundred light-
relatively uniform for clusters of known years away. The second came about
distance. The final result was a catalog of because of a very curious error made by
distances for 69 globular clusters, from one of Shapley’s colleagues at Mount
which Shapley deduced his revolutionary Wilson Observatory, Adrian van Maanen.
model of the Milky Way Galaxy—one that
not only significantly extended the limits The van Maanen Rotation
of the galactic system but that also dis-
placed the Sun from its centre to a location During the early 20th century, one of the
nearer its edge. most important branches of astronomy
Shapley’s work caused astronomers was astrometry, the precise measure-
to ask themselves certain questions: How ments of stellar positions and motions.
could the existing stellar data be so Van Maanen was one of the leading
wrong? Why couldn’t they see something experts in this field. Most of his determi-
in Sagittarius, the proposed galactic cen- nations of stellar positions were accurate
tre, 30,000 light-years away? The reason and have stood the test of time, but he
for the incorrectness of the star count made one serious and still poorly under-
methods was not learned until 1930, when stood error when he pursued a problem
Lick Observatory astronomer Robert J. tangential to his main interests. In a
Trumpler, while studying open clusters, series of papers published in the early
discovered that interstellar dust pervades 1920s, van Maanen reported on his dis-
the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy and covery and measurement of the rotation
obscures objects beyond only a few thou- of spiral nebulae. Using early plates taken
sand light-years. This dust thus renders by others at the 152-cm (60-inch) Mount
the centre of the system invisible opti- Wilson telescope as well as more recent
cally and makes it appear that globular ones taken about 10 years later, van
clusters and spiral nebulae avoid the Maanen measured the positions of sev-
band of the Milky Way. eral knotlike, nearly stellar images in the
Shapley’s belief in the tremendous spiral arms of some of the largest-known
size of the local galactic system helped to spiral nebulae (e.g., M33, M101, and M51).
put him on the wrong side of the argu- Comparing the positions, he found dis-
ment about other galaxies. He thought tinct changes indicative of a rotation of
172 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the spiral pattern against the background subconsciously, and this subtle effect
of surrounding field stars. In each case, manifested itself in prejudicing the deli-
the rotation occurs in the sense that the cate measurements, or (2) possibly the
spiral arms trail. The periods of rotation first set of plates was the problem. Many
were all approximately 100,000 years. of these plates had been taken in an
Angular motions were about 0.02 second unconventional manner by Ritchey, who
of arc per year. swung the plate holder out of the field
Shapley seized the van Maanen whenever the quality of the images was
results as evidence that the spirals had to temporarily poor because of atmospheric
be nearby; otherwise, their true space turbulence. The resulting plates appeared
velocities of rotation would have to be excellent, having been exposed only
impossibly large. For example, if M51 is during times of very fine seeing; however,
rotating at an apparent rate of 0.02 sec- according to some interpretations, the
ond of arc per year, its true velocity would images had a slight asymmetry that led
be immense if it is a distant galaxy. to a very small displacement of star
Assuming that a distance of 10,000,000 images compared with nonstellar images.
light-years would lead to an implausibly Such an error could look like rotation if
large rotation velocity of 12,000 km/sec not recognized for what it really was. In
(7,456 miles/sec), Shapley argued that, if a any case, the van Maanen rotation was
more reasonable velocity was adopted— accepted by many astronomers, includ-
say, 100 km/sec (62 miles/sec)—then the ing Shapley, and temporarily sidetracked
distances would all be less than 100,000 progress toward recognizing the truth
light-years, which would put all the spirals about galaxies.
well within the Milky Way Galaxy.
It is unclear just why such a crucial The Shapley-Curtis Debate
measurement went wrong. Van Maanen
repeated the measures and obtained the The nature of galaxies and scale of the
same answer even after Hubble demon- universe were the subject of the Great
strated the truth about the distances to Debate, a public program arranged in
the spirals. However, subsequent work- 1920 by the National Academy of Sciences
ers, using the same plates, failed to find at the Smithsonian Institution in
any rotation. Among the various hypoth- Washington, D.C. Featured were talks by
eses that science historians have proposed Shapley and the aforementioned Heber
as an explanation for the error are two Curtis, who were recognized as spokes-
particularly reasonable ideas: (1) possibly men for opposite views on the nature of
the fact that spiral nebulae look like they spiral nebulae and the Milky Way Galaxy.
are rotating (i.e., they resemble familiar This so-called debate has often been cited
rotational patterns that are perceivable in as an illustration of how revolutionary
nature) may have influenced the observer new concepts are assimilated by science.
Galaxies | 173

It is sometimes compared to the debate, willing to concede that there might be

centuries before, over the motions of the two classes of novae, yet, because he con-
Earth (the Copernican revolution); how- sidered the Milky Way Galaxy to be small,
ever, though as a focal point the debate he underestimated their differences. The
about Earth’s motion can be used to van Maanen rotation also entered into
define the modern controversy, the Shapley’s arguments: if spiral nebulae
Shapley-Curtis debate actually was much were rotating so fast, they must be within
more complicated. the Milky Way Galaxy as he conceived it.
A careful reading of the documents For Curtis, however, the matter provided
involved suggests that, on the broader less of a problem: even if spiral nebulae
topic of the scale of the universe, both did rotate as rapidly as claimed, the small
men were making incorrect conclusions scale of Curtis’s universe allowed them to
but for the same reasons—namely, for have physically reasonable speeds.
being unable to accept and comprehend The Shapley-Curtis debate took place
the incredibly large scale of things. near the end of the era of the single-
Shapley correctly argued for an enormous galaxy universe. In just a few years the
Milky Way Galaxy on the basis of the P-L scientific world became convinced that
relation and the globular clusters, while Shapley’s grand scale of the Milky Way
Curtis incorrectly rejected these lines of Galaxy was correct and at the same time
evidence, advocating instead a small that Curtis was right about the nature of
galactic system. Given a Milky Way spiral nebulae. Such objects indeed lie
Galaxy system of limited scale, Curtis even outside Shapley’s enormous Milky
could argue for and consider plausible Way Galaxy, and they range far beyond
the extragalactic nature of the spiral neb- the distances that in 1920 seemed too vast
ulae. Shapley, on the other hand, for many astronomers to comprehend.
incorrectly rejected the island universe
theory of the spirals (i.e., the hypothesis Hubble’s Discovery of
that there existed comparable galaxies Extragalactic Objects
beyond the boundaries of the Milky Way
Galaxy) because he felt that such objects During the early 1920s Hubble detected
would surely be engulfed by the local 15 stars in the small, irregular cloudlike
galactic system. Furthermore, he put object NGC 6822 that varied in luminosity,
aside the apparent faint novae in M31, and he suspected that they might include
preferring to interpret S Andromeda as Cepheids. After considerable effort, he
an ordinary nova, for otherwise that object determined that 11 of them were in fact
would have been unbelievably luminous. Cepheid variables, with properties indis-
Unfortunately for him, such phenomena— tinguishable from those of normal
called supernovae—do in fact exist, as Cepheids in the Milky Way Galaxy and in
was realized a few years later. Curtis was the Magellanic Clouds. Their periods
174 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

ranged from 12 to 64 days, and they were M31 at a meeting in 1924, he did not com-
all very faint, much fainter than their plete his research and publish the results
Magellanic counterparts. Nevertheless, for this conspicuous spiral galaxy until
they fit a P-L relation of the same nature five years later.
as had been discovered by Leavitt. While the Cepheids made it possible
Hubble then boldly assumed that the to determine the distance and nature of
P-L relation was universal and derived an NGC 6822, some of its other features
estimate for the distance to NGC 6822, corroborated the conclusion that it was a
using Shapley’s most recent (1925) ver- separate, distant galaxy. Hubble discov-
sion of the calibration of the relation. This ered within it five diffuse nebulae, which
calibration was wrong, as is now known, are glowing gaseous clouds composed
because of the confusion at that time mostly of ionized hydrogen, designated
over the nature of Cepheids. Shapley’s H II regions. (H stands for hydrogen and
calibration included certain Cepheids in II indicates that most of it is ionized; H I,
globular clusters that subsequent investi- by contrast, signifies neutral hydrogen.)
gators found to have their own fainter P-L He found that these five H II regions had
relation. (Such Cepheids have been des- spectra like those of gas clouds in the
ignated Type II Cepheids to distinguish Milky Way Galaxy system—e.g., the Orion
them from the normal variety, which are Nebula and Eta Carinae. Calculating their
referred to as Type I.) Thus, Hubble’s dis- diameters, Hubble ascertained that the
tance for NGC 6822 was too small: he sizes of the diffuse nebulae were normal,
calculated a distance of only 700,000 similar to those of local examples of giant
light-years. Today it is recognized that H II regions.
the actual distance is closer to 2,000,000 Five other diffuse objects discerned
light-years. In any case, this vast distance— by Hubble were definitely not gaseous
even though underestimated—was large nebulae. He compared them with globular
enough to convince Hubble that NGC clusters (both in the Milky Way Galaxy
6822 must be a remote, separate galaxy, and in the Magellanic Clouds) and con-
much too far away to be included even in cluded that they were too small and faint
Shapley’s version of the Milky Way Galaxy to be normal globular clusters. Convinced
system. Technically, then, this faint neb- that they were most likely distant galaxies
ula can be considered the first recognized seen through NGC 6822, he dismissed
external galaxy. The Magellanic Clouds them from further consideration. Modern
continued to be regarded simply as studies suggest that Hubble was too hasty.
appendages to the Milky Way Galaxy, Though probably not true giant globular
and the other bright nebulae, M31 and clusters, these objects are in all likelihood
M33, were still being studied at the Mount star clusters in the system, fainter, smaller
Wilson Observatory. Although Hubble in population, and probably somewhat
announced his discovery of Cepheids in younger than normal globular clusters.
Galaxies | 175

The Dutch astronomer Jacobus Because M31 is much larger than the
Cornelius Kapteyn showed in the early field of view of the 152- and 254-cm (60-
20th century that statistical techniques and 100-inch) telescopes at Mount
could be used to determine the stellar Wilson, Hubble concentrated on four
luminosity function for the solar neigh- regions, centred on the nucleus and at
bourhood. (The luminosity function is a various distances along the major axis.
curve that shows how many stars there The total area studied amounted to less
are in a given volume for each different than half the galaxy’s size, and the other
stellar luminosity.) Eager to test the unexplored regions remained largely
nature of NGC 6822, Hubble counted unknown for 50 years. (Modern compre-
stars in the galaxy to various brightness hensive optical studies of M31 have been
limits and found a luminosity function conducted only since about 1980.)
for its brightest stars. When he compared Hubble pointed out an important and
it with Kapteyn’s, the agreement was puzzling feature of the resolvability of
excellent—another indication that the M31. Its central regions, including the
Cepheids had given about the right dis- nucleus and diffuse nuclear bulge, were
tance and that the basic properties of not well resolved into stars, one reason
galaxies were fairly uniform. Step by step, that the true nature of M31 had previously
Hubble and his contemporaries piled up been elusive. However, the outer parts
evidence for the fundamental assumption along the spiral arms in particular were
that has since guided the astronomy of resolved into swarms of faint stars, seen
the extragalactic universe, the uniformity superimposed over a structured back-
of nature. By its bold application, astron- ground of light. Current understanding of
omers have moved from a limiting this fact is that spiral galaxies typically
one-galaxy universe to an immense vast- have central bulges made up exclusively
ness of space populated by billions of of very old stars, the brightest of which are
galaxies, all grander in size and design too faint to be visible on Hubble’s plates.
than the Milky Way Galaxy system was Not until 1944 did the German-born
once thought to be. astronomer Walter Baade finally resolve
the bulge of M31. Using red-sensitive
The Distance to the plates and very long exposures, he man-
Andromeda Nebula aged to detect the brightest red giants of
this old population. Out in the arms there
In 1929 Hubble published his epochal exist many young, bright, hot blue stars,
paper on M31, the great Andromeda and these are easily resolved. The bright-
Nebula. Based on 350 photographic est are so luminous that they can be seen
plates taken at Mount Wilson, his study even with moderate-sized telescopes.
provided evidence that M31 is a giant The most important of Hubble’s dis-
stellar system like the Milky Way Galaxy. coveries was that of M31’s population of
176 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Cepheid variables. Forty of the 50 vari- measured for the inner parts of M31 by
ables detected turned out to be ordinary spectrographic work, he calculated (on
Cepheids with periods ranging from 10 the basis of the distance derived from the
to 48 days. A clear relation was found Cepheids) that M31’s mass must be about
between their periods and luminosities, 3.5 billion times that of the Sun. Today
and the slope of the relation agreed with astronomers have much better data,
those for the Magellanic Clouds and which indicate that the galaxy’s true total
NGC 6822. Hubble’s comparison indi- mass must be at least 100 times greater
cated that M31 must be 8.5 times more than Hubble’s value, but even that value
distant than the Small Magellanic Cloud clearly showed that M31 is an immense
(SMC), which would imply a distance of system of stars. Furthermore, Hubble’s
two million light-years if the modern estimates of star densities demonstrated
SMC distance was used (the 1929 value that the stars in the outer arm areas of
employed by Hubble was about two times M31 are spread out with about the same
too small). Clearly, M31 must be a distant, density as in the Milky Way Galaxy sys-
large galaxy. tem in the vicinity of the Sun.
Other features announced in Hubble’s
paper were M31’s population of bright, The Golden Age of
irregular, slowly varying variables. One Extragalactic Astronomy
of the irregulars was exceedingly bright;
it is among the most luminous stars in Until about 1950, scientific knowledge of
the galaxy and is a prototype of a class of galaxies advanced slowly. Only a very
high-luminosity stars now called Hubble- small number of astronomers took up
Sandage variables, which are found in galaxy studies, and only a very few tele-
many giant galaxies. Eighty-five novae, scopes were suitable for significant
all behaving very much like those in the research. It was an exclusive field, rather
Milky Way Galaxy, were also analyzed. jealously guarded by its practitioners,
Hubble estimated that the true occur- and so progress was orderly but limited.
rence rate of novae in M31 must be about During the decade of the 1950s, the
30 per year, a figure that was later con- field began to change. Ever-larger optical
firmed by the American astronomer telescopes became available, and the
Halton C. Arp in a systematic search. space program resulted in a sizable
Hubble found numerous star clusters increase in the number of astronomers
in M31, especially globular clusters, 140 emerging from universities. New instru-
of which he eventually cataloged. He mentation enabled investigators to explore
clinched the argument that M31 was a galaxies in entirely new ways, making it
galaxy similar to the Milky Way Galaxy possible to detect their radio, infrared,
by calculating its mass and mass density. and ultraviolet emissions and eventually
Using the velocities that had been even radiation at X-ray and gamma-ray
Galaxies | 177

wavelengths. Whereas in the 1950s there optical appearance of galaxy images on

was only one telescope larger than 254 photographic plates, galaxies are divided
cm (100 inches)—and only about 10 into three general classes: ellipticals, spi-
astronomers conducting research on rals, and irregulars. Hubble subdivided
galaxies worldwide—by the year 2000 the these three classes into finer groups.
number of large telescopes had grown In The Hubble Atlas of Galaxies
immensely, with 12 telescopes larger than (1961), the American astronomer Allan R.
800 cm (300 inches), and the number of Sandage drew on Hubble’s notes and his
scientists devoted to galaxy study was in own research on galaxy morphology to
the thousands. By then, galaxies were revise the Hubble classification scheme.
being extensively studied with giant Some of the features of this revised
arrays of ground-based radio telescopes, scheme are subject to argument because
Earth-orbiting optical, X-ray, ultraviolet, of the findings of very recent research,
and infrared telescopes, and high-speed but its general features, especially the
computers—studies that have given rise coding of types, remain viable. A descrip-
to remarkable advances in knowledge and tion of the classes as defined by Sandage
understanding. The tremendous progress is given here, along with observations
in both theoretical and observational concerning needed refinements of some
work has led many to say that the turn of of the details.
the 21st century happened during the
“golden age” of extragalactic astronomy. Elliptical Galaxies

Types of galaxies These systems exhibit certain character-

istic properties. They have complete
All galaxies are not spirals like our own rotational symmetry; i.e., they are figures
Milky Way. Some are elliptical systems. of revolution with two equal principal
Others, the irregulars, have no definite axes. They have a third smaller axis that
shape at all. Astronomers have devised is the presumed axis of rotation. The sur-
systems of classification that encompass face brightness of ellipticals at optical
all these types. wavelengths decreases monotonically
outward from a maximum value at the
Principal Schemes of centre, following a common mathemati-
Classification cal law of the form:

Almost all current systems of galaxy I = I0( r/a +1 )−2,

classification are outgrowths of the initial
scheme proposed by the American where I is the intensity of the light, I0 is
astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1926. In the central intensity, r is the radius, and a
Hubble’s scheme, which is based on the is a scale factor. The isophotal contours
178 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

exhibited by an elliptical system are simi- regions than in the outer parts. The major
lar ellipses with a common orientation, axes sometimes do not line up either;
each centred on its nucleus. No galaxy of their position angles vary in the outer
this type is flatter than b/a = 0.3, with b parts. Finally, astronomers have found
and a the minor and major axes of the that a few ellipticals do in fact have small
elliptical image, respectively. Ellipticals numbers of luminous O and B stars as
contain neither interstellar dust nor well as dust lanes.
bright stars of spectral types O and B.
Many, however, contain evidence of the Spiral Galaxies
presence of low-density gas in their
nuclear regions. Ellipticals are red in Spirals are characterized by circular sym-
colour, and their spectra indicate that metry, a bright nucleus surrounded by a
their light comes mostly from old stars, thin outer disk, and a superimposed spiral
especially evolved red giants. structure. They are divided into two par-
Subclasses of elliptical galaxies are allel classes: normal spirals and barred
defined by their apparent shape, which is spirals. The normal spirals have arms that
of course not necessarily their three- emanate from the nucleus, while barred
dimensional shape. The designation is spirals have a bright linear feature called
En, where n is an integer defined by a bar that straddles the nucleus, with the
arms unwinding from the ends of the bar.
n = 10( a− b)/a. The nucleus of a spiral galaxy is a sharp-
peaked area of smooth texture, which can
A perfectly circular image will be an E0 be quite small or, in some cases, can make
galaxy, while a flatter object might be an up the bulk of the galaxy. Both the arms
E7 galaxy. (As explained above, elliptical and the disk of a spiral system are blue in
galaxies are never flatter than this, so colour, whereas its central areas are red like
there are no E8, E9, or E10 galaxies.) an elliptical galaxy. The normal spirals
Although the above-cited criteria are are designated S and the barred varieties
generally accepted, current high-quality SB. Each of these classes is subclassified
measurements have shown that some into three types according to the size of the
significant deviations exist. Most ellipti- nucleus and the degree to which the spiral
cal galaxies do not, for instance, exactly arms are coiled. The three types are denoted
fit the intensity law formulated by Hubble; with the lowercase letters a, b, and c. There
deviations are evident in their innermost also exist galaxies that are intermediate
parts and in their faint outer parts. between ellipticals and spirals. Such sys-
Furthermore, many elliptical galaxies tems have the disk shape characteristic of
have slowly varying ellipticity, with the the latter but no spiral arms. These inter-
images being more circular in the central mediate forms bear the designation S0.
Galaxies | 179

S0 Galaxies which has a double, almost rectangular

bulge around a central nucleus. Another
These systems exhibit some of the prop- type of peculiar S0 is found in NGC 2685.
erties of both the ellipticals and the This nebula in the constellation Ursa
spirals and seem to be a bridge between Major has an apparently edge-on disk
these two more common galaxy types. galaxy at its centre, with surrounding
Hubble introduced the S0 class long after hoops of gas, dust, and stars arranged
his original classification scheme had in a plane that is at right angles to the
been universally adopted, largely because apparent plane of the central object.
he noticed the dearth of highly flattened
objects that otherwise had the properties Sa Galaxies
of elliptical galaxies. Sandage’s elabora-
tion of the S0 class yielded the These normal spirals have narrow, tightly
characteristics described here. wound arms, which usually are visible
S0 galaxies have a bright nucleus because of the presence of interstellar
that is surrounded by a smooth, feature- dust and, in many cases, bright stars.
less bulge and a faint outer envelope. Most of them have a large amorphous
They are thin; statistical studies of the bulge in the centre, but there are some
ratio of the apparent axes (seen projected that violate this criterion, having a small
onto the sky) indicate that they have nucleus around which is arranged an
intrinsic ratios of minor to major axes in amorphous disk with superimposed faint
the range 0.1 to 0.3. Their structure does arms. NGC 1302 is an example of the nor-
not generally follow the luminosity law of mal type of Sa galaxy, while NGC 4866 is
elliptical galaxies but has a form more representative of one with a small nucleus
like that for spiral galaxies. Some S0 sys- and arms consisting of thin dust lanes on
tems have a hint of structure in the a smooth disk.
envelope, either faintly discernible arm-
like discontinuities or narrow absorption Sb Galaxies
lanes produced by interstellar dust.
Several S0 galaxies are otherwise pecu- This intermediate type of spiral typically
liar, and it is difficult to classify them with has a medium-sized nucleus. Its arms are
certainty. They can be thought of as pecu- more widely spread than those of the Sa
liar irregular galaxies (i.e., Irr II galaxies) variety and appear less smooth. They
or simply as some of the 1 or 2 percent of contain stars, star clouds, and interstellar
galaxies that do not fit easily into the gas and dust. Sb galaxies show wide dis-
Hubble scheme. Among these are such persions in details in terms of their
galaxies as NGC 4753, which has irregular shape. Hubble and Sandage observed, for
dust lanes across its image, and NGC 128, example, that in certain Sb galaxies the
180 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

arms emerge at the nucleus, which is often arms that are open, with relatively large
quite small. Other members of this sub- pitch angles. The arms, moreover, are
class have arms that begin tangent to a lumpy, containing as they do numerous
bright, nearly circular ring, while still others irregularly distributed star clouds, stellar
reveal a small, bright spiral pattern inset associations, star clusters, and gas clouds
into the nuclear bulge. In any of these cases, known as emission nebulae.
the spiral arms may be set at different pitch As in the case of Sb galaxies, there
angles. (A pitch angle is defined as the are several recognizable subtypes among
angle between an arm and a circle centred the Sc systems. Sandage has cited six
on the nucleus and intersecting the arm.) subdivisions: (1) galaxies, such as the
Hubble and Sandage noted further Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), that have thin
deviations from the standard shape estab- branched arms that wind outward from a
lished for Sb galaxies. A few systems tiny nucleus, usually extending out about
exhibit a chaotic dust pattern superim- 180° before branching into multiple seg-
posed upon the tightly wound spiral ments, (2) systems with multiple arms
arms. Some have smooth, thick arms of that start tangent to a bright ring centred
low surface brightness, frequently on the nucleus, (3) those with arms that
bounded on their inner edges with dust are poorly defined and that span the
lanes. Finally, there are those with a large, entire image of the galaxy, (4) those with
smooth nuclear bulge from which the a spiral pattern that cannot easily be
arms emanate, flowing outward tangent traced and that are multiple and punctu-
to the bulge and forming short arm seg- ated with chaotic dust lanes, (5) those
ments. This is the most familiar type of with thick, loose arms that are not well
Sb galaxy and is best exemplified by the defined—e.g., the nearby galaxy M33 (the
giant Andromeda Galaxy. Triangulum Nebula)—and (6) transition
Many of these variations in shape types, which are almost so lacking in
remain unexplained. Theoretical models order that they could be considered
of spiral galaxies based on a number of irregular galaxies.
different premises can reproduce the Some classification schemes, such as
basic Sb galaxy shape, but many of the that of the French-born American astron-
deviations noted above are somewhat omer Gerard de Vaucouleurs, give the
mysterious in origin and must await more last of the above-cited subtypes a class of
detailed and realistic modeling of galac- its own, type Sd. It also has been found
tic dynamics. that some of the variations noted here
for Sc galaxies are related to total lumi-
Sc Galaxies nosity. Galaxies of the fifth subtype, in
particular, tend to be intrinsically faint,
These galaxies characteristically have a while those of the first subtype are
very small nucleus and multiple spiral among the most luminous spirals
Galaxies | 181

known. This correlation is part of the feature external to the bar. SBa galaxies
justification for the luminosity classifi- have bright, fairly large nuclear bulges
cation discussed below. and tightly wound, smooth spiral arms
that emerge from the ends of the bar or
SB Galaxies from a circular ring external to the bar.
SBb systems have a smooth bar as well as
The luminosities, dimensions, spectra, and relatively smooth and continuous arms.
distributions of the barred spirals tend to In some galaxies of this type, the arms
be indistinguishable from those of normal start at or near the ends of the bar, with
spirals. The subclasses of SB systems exist conspicuous dust lanes along the inside
in parallel sequence to those of the latter. of the bar that can be traced right up to
There are SB0 galaxies that feature a the nucleus. Others have arms that start
large nuclear bulge surrounded by a disk- tangent to a ring external to the bar. In
like envelope across which runs a SBc galaxies, both the arms and the bar
luminous featureless bar. Some SB0 sys- are highly resolved into star clouds and
tems have short bars, while others have stellar associations. The arms are open in
bars that extend across the entire visible form and can start either at the ends of
image. Occasionally there is a ringlike the bar or tangent to a ring.

Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300. NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
182 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Irregular Galaxies the galaxies differently. A notable example

of one such system is that of de
Most representatives of this class consist Vaucouleurs. This scheme, which has
of grainy, highly irregular assemblages of evolved considerably since its inception
luminous areas. They have neither notice- in 1959, includes a large number of codes
able symmetry nor an obvious central for indicating different kinds of morpho-
nucleus, and they are generally bluer in logical characteristics visible in the
colour than are the arms and disks of spi- images of galaxies. The major Hubble
ral galaxies. An extremely small number galaxy classes form the framework of de
of them, however, are red and have a Vaucouleurs’s scheme, and its subdivision
smooth, though nonsymmetrical, shape. includes different families, varieties, and
Hubble recognized these two types stages. The de Vaucouleurs system is so
of irregular galaxies, Irr I and Irr II. The detailed that it is more of a descriptive
Irr I type is the most common of the irreg- code for galaxies than a commonly used
ular systems, and it seems to fall naturally classification scheme.
on an extension of the spiral classes, Galaxies with unusual properties
beyond Sc, into galaxies with no discern- often have shorthand names that refer to
ible spiral structure. They are blue, are their characteristic properties. Common
highly resolved, and have little or no examples are:
nucleus. The Irr II systems are red, rare
objects. They include various kinds of D: Galaxies with abnormally large,
chaotic galaxies for which there appar- distended shapes, always found
ently are many different explanations, in the central areas of galaxy clus-
including most commonly the results of ters and hypothesized to consist
galaxy-galaxy interactions, both tidal dis- of merged galaxies.
tortions and cannibalism; therefore, this S: Seyfert galaxies, originally recog-
category is no longer seen as a useful way nized by the American astronomer
to classify galaxies. Carl K. Seyfert from optical spec-
Some irregular galaxies, like spirals, tra. These objects have very
are barred. They have a nearly central bar bright nuclei with strong emis-
structure dominating an otherwise chaotic sion lines of hydrogen and other
arrangement of material. The Large Mag­ common elements, showing
ellanic Cloud is a well-known example. velocities of hundreds or thou-
sands of kilometres per second.
Other Classification Most are radio sources.
Schemes and Galaxy Types N: Galaxies with small, very bright
nuclei and strong radio emission.
Other classification schemes similar to These are probably similar to
Hubble’s follow his pattern but subdivide Seyfert galaxies but more distant.
Galaxies | 183

Q: Quasars, or QSOs, small, extremely a way to measure their distances. In an

luminous objects, many of which earlier section, it was explained how
are strong radio sources. Quasars astronomers first accomplished this
apparently are related to Seyfert exceedingly difficult task for the nearby
and N galaxies but have such galaxies during the 1920s. Until the late
bright nuclei that the underlying decades of the 20th century, progress
galaxy can be detected only with was discouragingly slow. Even though
great difficulty. increased attention was being paid to the
problem around the world, a consensus
There are also different schemes used was not reached. In fact, the results of
for extremely distant galaxies, which we most workers fell into two separate
see in their youth. When a very distant gal- camps, in which the distances found by
axy is examined with a very large telescope, one were about twice the size of the other’s.
we see its structure as it was when the light For this reason, shortly after its launch
was emitted billions of years ago. In such into Earth orbit in 1990, the Hubble Space
cases, the distinctive Hubble types are not Telescope (HST) was assigned the special
so obvious. Apparently, galaxies are much task of reliably determining the extra-
less well organized in their early years, and galactic distance scale. Led by the
these very distant objects tend to be highly Canadian-born astronomer Wendy
irregular and asymmetrical. Although spe- Freedman and the American astronomer
cial classification schemes are sometimes Robert Kennicutt, the team used a con-
used for special purposes, the general siderable amount of the HST’s time to
scheme of Hubble in its updated form is measure the properties of the Cepheid
the one most commonly used. variable stars in a carefully selected set of
galaxies. Their results were intermediate
The external galaxies between the two earlier distance scales.
With subsequent refinements, the scale
Beyond the Milky Way stretches the vast of distances between the galaxies is now
universe filled with billions of galaxies. on fairly secure footing.
Astronomers have measured their dis- The HST distance scale project estab-
tances and determined their properties lished the scale of distances for the nearby
to a degree that would have seemed universe. Establishing the distances to
unbelievable only a few decades ago. galaxies over the entire range of present
observations (several billion light-years)
The Extragalactic is an even more difficult task. The process
Distance Scale involved is one of many successive steps
that are all closely tied to one another.
Before astronomers could establish the Before even the nearby galaxy distances
existence of galaxies, they had to develop measured by the HST can be established,
184 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

distances must first be determined for a distances are measured by using Popula­
number of galaxies even closer to the tion II stars, such as RR Lyrae variables
Milky Way Galaxy, specifically those in or luminous red giants.
the Local Group. For this step, criteria are Beyond the Local Group are two
used that have been calibrated within the nearby groups for which the P-L relation
Milky Way Galaxy, where checks can be has been used: the Sculptor Group and
made between different methods and the M81 Group. Both of these are small
where the ultimate criterion is a geomet- clusters of galaxies that are similar in size
ric one, basically involving trigonometric to the Local Group. They lie at a distance
parallaxes, especially those determined of 10 to 15 million light-years.
by the Hipparcos satellite. These distance One example of an alternate method
criteria, acting as “standard candles,” are to the Cepheid P-L relationship makes
then compared with the HST observa- use of planetary nebulae, the ringlike
tions of galaxies beyond the Local Group, shells that surround some stars in their
where other methods are calibrated that late stages of evolution. Planetary nebu-
allow even larger distances to be gauged. lae have a variety of luminosities,
This general stepwise process continues depending on their age and other physi-
to the edge of the observable universe. cal circumstances; however, it has been
The Local Group of galaxies is a con- determined that the brightest planetary
centration of approximately 50 galaxies nebulae have an upper limit to their
dominated by two large spirals, the Milky intrinsic brightnesses. This means that
Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy. astronomers can measure the bright-
For many of these galaxies, distances can nesses of such nebulae in any given
be measured by using the Cepheid P-L galaxy, find the upper limit to the appar-
law, which has been refined and made ent brightnesses, and then immediately
more precise since it was first used by calculate the distance of the galaxy. This
American astronomer Edwin Hubble. For technique is effective for measuring dis-
instance, the nearest external galaxy, the tances to galaxies in the Local Group, in
Large Magellanic Cloud, contains thou- nearby groups, and even as far away as
sands of Cepheid variables, which can be the Virgo cluster, which lies at a distance
compared with Cepheids of known dis- of about 50 million light-years.
tance in the Milky Way Galaxy to yield a Once distances have been estab-
distance determination of 160,000 light- lished for these nearby galaxies and
years. This method has been employed groups, new criteria are calibrated for
for almost all galaxies of the Local Group extension to fainter galaxies. Examples
that contain massive-enough stars to of the many different criteria that have
include Cepheids. Most of the rest of the been tried are the luminosities of the
members are elliptical galaxies, which do brightest stars in the galaxy, the diame-
not have Cepheid variables; their ters of the largest H II regions, supernova
Galaxies | 185

luminosities, the spread in the rotational Supercluster). Radial velocities cannot

velocities of stars and interstellar gas (the give reliable distances beyond a few bil-
Tully-Fisher relation), and the luminosi- lion light-years, because, in the case of
ties of globular clusters. All of these such galaxies, the observed velocities
criteria have difficulties in their applica- depend on what the expansion rate of the
tion because of dependencies on galaxy universe was then rather than what it is
type, composition, luminosity, and other now. The light that is observed today was
characteristics, so the results of several emitted several billion years ago when
methods must be compared and cross- the universe was much younger and
checked. Such distance criteria allow smaller than it is at present, when it might
astronomers to measure the distances to have been expanding either more rapidly
galaxies out to a few hundred million or more slowly than now.
light-years. To find the distances of very distant
Beyond 100 million light-years galaxies, astronomers have to avail them-
another method becomes possible. The selves of methods that make use of
expansion of the universe, at least for the extremely bright objects. In the past,
immediate neighbourhood of the Local astronomers were forced to assume that
Group (within one billion light-years or the brightest galaxies in clusters all
so), is almost linear, so the radial velocity have the same true luminosity and that
of a galaxy is a reliable distance indicator. measuring the apparent brightness of the
The velocity is directly proportional to brightest galaxy in a distant cluster will
the distance in this interval, so once a gal- therefore give its distance. This method
axy’s radial velocity has been measured, is no longer used, however, as there is too
all that must be known is the constant of much scatter in the brightness of the
proportionality, which is called Hubble’s brightest galaxies and because there are
constant. Although there still remains reasons to believe that both galaxies and
some uncertainty in the correct value of galaxy clusters in the early universe were
Hubble’s constant, the value obtained by quite different from those of the present.
the HST is generally considered the best The only effective way found so far
current value, which is very near 25 km/ for measuring distances to the most-
sec (15 m/sec) per one million light-years. distant detectable galaxies is to use the
This value does not apply in or near the brightness of a certain type of supernova,
Local Group, because radial velocities called Type Ia. In the nearby universe
measured for nearby galaxies and groups these supernovae—massive stars that
are affected by the Local Group’s motion have collapsed and ejected much of their
with respect to the general background of material explosively out into interstellar
galaxies, which is toward a concentration space—show uniformity in their maximum
of galaxies and groups of galaxies cen- brightnesses; thus, it can be assumed that
tred on the Virgo cluster (the Local any supernovae of that type observed in a
186 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

very distant galaxy should also have the The mass of a typical large spiral is about
same luminosity. Recent results have 500,000,000,000 Suns.
strongly suggested that the universe’s In the late 20th century it became
expansion rate is greater here and now clear that most of the mass in galaxies is
than it was in the distant past. This not in the form of stars or other visible
change of the expansion rate has impor- matter. By measuring the speed with
tant implications for cosmology. which stars in spiral and elliptical galax-
ies orbit the centre of the galaxy, one can
Physical Properties of measure the mass inside that orbit. Most
External Galaxies galaxies have more mass than can be
accounted for by their stars. Therefore,
Like stars, galaxies display staggering there is some unidentified “dark matter”
differences. Studies of their physical that dominates the dynamics of most
properties can reveal their origins in the galaxies. The dark matter seems to be
early universe. distributed more broadly than the stars in
galaxies. Extensive efforts to identify this
Size and Mass dark matter have not yet been satisfac-
tory, though the detection of large
The range in intrinsic size for the exter- numbers of very faint stars, including
nal galaxies extends from the smallest brown dwarfs, was in some sense a by-
systems, such as the extreme dwarf galax- product of these searches, as was the
ies found near the Milky Way that are discovery of the mass of neutrinos. It is
only 100 light years across, to giant radio somewhat frustrating for astronomers to
galaxies, the extent of which (including know that the majority of the mass in
their radio-bright lobes) is more than galaxies (and in the universe) is of an
3,000,000 light-years. Normal large spiral unknown nature.
galaxies, such as the Andromeda Galaxy,
have diameters of 100,000 to 500,000 Luminosity
The total masses of galaxies are not The external galaxies show an extremely
well known, largely because of the uncer- large range in their total luminosities.
tain nature of the hypothesized invisible The intrinsically faintest are the extreme
dark halos that surround many, or possibly dwarf elliptical galaxies, such as the Ursa
all, galaxies. The total mass of material Minor dwarf, which has a luminosity of
within the radius out to which the stars or approximately 100,000 Suns. The most
gas of a galaxy can be detected is known luminous galaxies are those that contain
for many hundreds of systems. The range quasars at their centres. These remark-
is from about 100,000 to roughly ably bright superactive nuclei can be as
1,000,000,000,000 times the Sun’s mass. luminous as 2,000,000,000,000 Suns. The
Galaxies | 187

underlying galaxies are often as much Some ellipticals formed almost all their
as 100 times fainter than their nuclei. stars during the first few billion years,
Normal large spiral galaxies have a lumi- while others may have had a more com-
nosity of a few hundred billion Suns. plicated history, including various
periods of active star formation related to
Age the merging together of smaller galaxies.
In a merging event the gas can be com-
Even though different galaxies have had pressed, which enhances the conditions
quite different histories, measurements necessary for new bursts of star forma-
tend to suggest that most, if not all, galax- tion. The spirals and the irregulars, on
ies have very nearly the same age. The the other hand, have been using up their
age of the Milky Way Galaxy, which is materials more gradually.
measured by determining the ages of the
oldest stars found within it, is approxi- Composition
mately 13 billion years. Nearby galaxies,
even those such as the Large and Small The abundances of the chemical ele-
Magellanic Clouds that contain a multi- ments in stars and galaxies are remarkably
tude of very young stars, also have at least uniform. The ratios of the amounts of the
a few very old stars of approximately that different elements that astronomers
same age. When more distant galaxies observe for the Sun are a reasonably good
are examined, their spectra and colours approximation for those of other stars in
closely resemble those of the nearby gal- the Milky Way Galaxy and also for stars
axies, and it is inferred that they too must in other galaxies. The main difference
contain a population of similarly very old found is in the relative amount of the
stars. Extremely distant galaxies, on the primordial gases, hydrogen and helium.
other hand, look younger, but that is The heavier elements are formed by stel-
because the “look-back” time for them is a lar evolutionary processes, and they are
significant fraction of their age; the light relatively more abundant in areas where
received from such galaxies was emitted extensive star formation has been taking
when they were appreciably younger. place. Thus, in such small elliptical galax-
It seems likely that all the galaxies ies as the Draco system, where almost all
began to form about the same time, when the stars were formed at the beginning of
the universe had cooled down enough for its lifetime, the component stars are
matter to condense, and they all thus nearly pure hydrogen and helium, while
started forming stars during nearly the in such large galaxies as the Andromeda
same epoch. Their large differences are a Galaxy there are areas where star forma-
matter not of age but rather of how they tion has been active for a long time (right
proceeded to regulate the processing of up to the present, in fact), and there inves-
their materials (gas and dust) into stars. tigators find that the heavier elements
188 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

are more abundant. In some external where I is the surface brightness (or the
galaxies as well as in some parts of the stellar density) at position r, r is the radial
Milky Way Galaxy system, heavy ele- distance from the centre, and Ie and re are
ments are even more abundant than in constants. This expression, introduced by
the Sun but rarely by more than a factor the French-born American astronomer
of two or so. Even in such cases, hydrogen Gerard de Vaucouleurs, is an empirical
and helium make up most of the constitu- formula that works remarkably well in
ent materials, accounting for at least 90 describing the spheroidal components of
percent of the mass. almost all galaxies. An alternative formula,
put forth by Edwin Hubble, is of the form
I = I0( r/a + 1)−2,
The spiral arms of some galaxies are the
most notable part of their structure. where I is the surface brightness, I0 is the
However, there are other no less impor- central brightness, r is the distance from
tant pieces of a galaxy from a halo of old the centre, and a is a scaling constant.
stars to its interstellar gas. Either of these formulas describes the
structure well, but neither explains it.
The Spheroidal Component A somewhat more complicated set of
equations can be derived on the basis of the
Most and perhaps all galaxies have a mutual gravitational attraction of stars
spheroidal component of old stars. In the for one another and the long-term effects
ellipticals this component constitutes all of close encounters between stars. These
or most of any given system. In the spi- models of the spheroidal component
rals it represents about half the constituent (appropriately modified in the presence
stars (this fraction varies greatly accord- of other galactic components) fit the
ing to galaxy type). In the irregulars the observed structures well. Rotation is not
spheroidal component is very inconspic- an important factor, since most elliptical
uous or, possibly in some cases, entirely galaxies and the spheroidal component
absent. The structure of the spheroidal of spiral systems (e.g., the Milky Way
component of all galaxies is similar, as if Galaxy) rotate slowly. One of the open
the spirals and irregulars possess a skel- questions about the structure of these
eton of old stars arranged in a structure objects is why they have as much flatten-
that resembles an elliptical. The radial ing as some of them do. In most cases,
distribution of stars follows a law of the measured rotation rate is inadequate
the form to explain the flattening on the basis of a
model of an oblate spheroid that rotates
¼ − 1})
I = Ie10(−3.33{[r/re] , around its short axis. Some elliptical
Galaxies | 189

galaxies are instead prolate spheroids that found galaxies that have extensive arms
rotate around their long axis. (extending around the centre for two or
more complete rotations) and those that
The Disk Component have a chaotic arm structure made up of
many short fragments that extend only
Except for such early-type galaxies as S0, 20° or 30° around the centre. All spiral
SB0, Sa, and SBa systems, spirals and arms fit reasonably well to a logarithmic
irregulars have a flat component of stars spiral of the form described in chapter 1,
that emits most of their brightness. The The Milky Way Galaxy.
disk component has a thickness that is
approximately one-fifth its diameter (this Gas Distribution
varies, depending on the type of stars
being considered). The stars show a radial If one were to look at galaxies at wave-
distribution that obeys an exponential lengths that show only neutral hydrogen
decrease outward; i.e., the brightness gas, they would look rather different from
obeys a formula of the form their optical appearance. Normally the gas,
as detected at radio wavelengths for neu-
log I = −kr, tral hydrogen atoms, is more widely spread
out, with the size of the gas component
where I is the surface brightness, r is the often extending to twice the size of the opti-
distance from the centre, and k is a scal- cally visible image. Also, in some galaxies a
ing constant. This constant is dependent hole exists in the centre of the system
both on the type of the galaxy and on its where almost no neutral hydrogen occurs.
intrinsic luminosity. The steepness of the There is, however, enough molecular hydro-
outward slope is greatest for the early gen to make up for the lack of atomic
Hubble types (Sa and SBa) and for the hydrogen. Molecular hydrogen is difficult
least-luminous galaxies. to detect, but it is accompanied by other
molecules, such as carbon monoxide, which
Spiral Arms can be observed at radio wavelengths.

The structure of the arms of spiral galax- Galaxy Clusters

ies depends on the galaxy type, and there
is also a great deal of variability within Galaxies tend to cluster together, some-
each type. Generally, the early Hubble times in small groups and sometimes in
types have smooth, indistinct spiral arms enormous complexes. Most galaxies have
with small pitch angles. The later types companions, either a few nearby objects
have more-open arms (larger pitch or a large-scale cluster; isolated galaxies,
angles). Within a given type there can be in other words, are quite rare.
190 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Types of Clusters many as 10,000 galaxies, which are con-

centrated toward the cluster centre.
There are several different classification
schemes for galaxy clusters, but the sim- Distribution
plest is the most useful. This scheme
divides clusters into three classes: groups, Clusters of galaxies are found all over the
irregulars, and sphericals. sky. They are difficult to detect along
the Milky Way, where high concentra-
Groups tions of the Galaxy’s dust and gas obscure
virtually everything at optical wave-
The groups class is composed of small lengths. However, even there clusters
compact groups of 10 to 50 galaxies of can be found in a few galactic “windows,”
mixed types, spanning roughly five mil- random holes in the dust that permit
lion light-years. An example of such an optical observations.
entity is the Local Group, which includes The clusters are not evenly spaced in
the Milky Way Galaxy, the Magellanic the sky; instead, they are arranged in a
Clouds, the Andromeda Galaxy, and way that suggests a certain amount of
about 50 other systems, mostly of the organization. Clusters are frequently
dwarf variety. associated with other clusters, forming
giant superclusters. These superclusters
Irregular Clusters typically consist of 3 to 10 clusters and
span as many as 200 million light-years.
Irregular clusters are large loosely struc- There also are immense areas between
tured assemblages of mixed galaxy clusters that are fairly empty, forming
types (mostly spirals and ellipticals), voids. Large-scale surveys made in the
totaling perhaps 1,000 or more systems 1980s of the radial velocities of galaxies
and extending out 10,000,000 to revealed an even-larger kind of structure.
50,000,000 light-years. The Virgo and It was discovered that galaxies and gal-
Hercules clusters are representative of axy clusters tend to fall in position along
this class. large planes and curves, almost like giant
walls, with relatively empty spaces
Spherical Clusters between them. A related large-scale
structure was found to exist where there
Spherical clusters are dense and consist occur departures from the velocity-distance
almost exclusively of elliptical and S0 relation in certain directions, indicat-
galaxies. They are enormous, having a ing that the otherwise uniform
linear diameter of up to 50,000,000 light- expansion is being perturbed by large
years. Spherical clusters may contain as concentrations of mass. One of these,
Galaxies | 191

discovered in 1988, has been dubbed “the having envelopes that extend out to radii
Great Attractor.” as large as one million light-years. Many
of them have multiple nuclei, and most
Interactions Between are strong sources of radio waves. The
Cluster Members most likely explanation for cD galaxies
is that they are massive central galactic
Galaxies in clusters exist in a part of the systems that have captured smaller clus-
universe that is much denser than aver- ter members because of their dominating
age, and the result is that they have gravitational fields and have absorbed
several unusual features. In the inner the other galaxies into their own struc-
parts of dense clusters there are very few, tures. Astronomers sometimes refer to
if any, normal spiral galaxies. This condi- this process as galactic cannibalism. In
tion is probably the result of fairly this sense, the outer extended disks of cD
frequent collisions between the closely systems, as well as their multiple nuclei,
packed galaxies, as such violent inter- represent the remains of past partly
actions tend to sweep out the interstellar digested “meals.”
gas, leaving behind only the spherical One more effect that can be traced to
component and a gasless disk. What the cluster environment is the presence
remains is in effect an S0 galaxy. of strong radio and X-ray sources, which
A second and related effect of galaxy tend to occur in or near the centres of
interactions is the presence of gas-poor clusters of galaxies. These will be dis-
spiral systems at the centres of large cussed in detail in the next section.
irregular clusters. A significant number
of the members of such clusters have Galaxies as a Radio Source
anomalously small amounts of neutral
hydrogen, and their gas components are Some of the strongest radio sources in
smaller on average than those for more the sky are galaxies. Most of them have a
isolated galaxies. This is thought to be peculiar morphology that is related to
the result of frequent distant encounters the cause of their radio radiation. Some
between such galaxies involving the dis- are relatively isolated galaxies, but most
ruption of their outer parts. galaxies that emit unusually large
A third effect of the dense cluster amounts of radio energy are found in
environment is the presence in some large clusters.
clusters—usually rather small dense
clusters—of an unusual type of galaxy Radio Galaxies
called a cD galaxy. These objects are
somewhat similar in structure to S0 gal- The basic characteristics of radio galax-
axies, but they are considerably larger, ies and the variations that exist among
192 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

them can be made clear with two examples. The other notable example of a radio
The first is Centaurus A, a giant radio galaxy is Virgo A, a powerful radio source
structure surrounding a bright, peculiar that corresponds to a bright elliptical gal-
galaxy of remarkable morphology desig- axy in the Virgo cluster, designated as
nated NGC 5128. It exemplifies a type M87. In this type of radio galaxy, most of
of radio galaxy that consists of an opti- the radio radiation is emitted from an
cal galaxy located at the centre of an appreciably smaller area than in the case
immensely larger two-lobed radio source. of Centaurus A. This area coincides in
In the particular case of Centaurus A, the size with the optically visible object.
extent of the radio structure is so great Virgo A is not particularly unusual except
that it is almost 100 times the size of the for one peculiarity: it has a bright jet of
central galaxy, which is itself a giant gal- gaseous material that appears to emanate
axy. This radio structure includes, besides from the nucleus of the galaxy, extending
the pair of far-flung radio lobes, two other out approximately halfway to its faint
sets of radio sources: one that is approxi- outer parts. This gaseous jet can be
mately the size of the optical galaxy and detected at optical, radio, and other (e.g.,
that resembles the outer structure in X-ray) wavelengths; its spectrum sug-
shape, and a second that is an intense gests strongly that it shines by means of
small source at the galaxy’s nucleus. the synchrotron mechanism.
Optically, NGC 5128 appears as a giant About the only condition that can
elliptical galaxy with two notable charac- account for the immense amounts of
teristics: an unusual disk of dust and gas energy emitted by radio galaxies is the
surrounding it and thin jets of interstellar capture of material (interstellar gas and
gas and young stars radiating outward. stars) by a supermassive object at their
The most plausible explanation for this centre. Such an object would resemble
whole array is that a series of energetic the one thought to be in the nucleus of
events in the nucleus of the galaxy the Milky Way Galaxy but would be far
expelled hot ionized gas from the centre more massive. In short, the most probable
at relativistic velocities (i.e., those at type of supermassive object for explain-
nearly the speed of light) in two opposite ing the details of strong radio sources
directions. These clouds of relativistic would be a black hole. Large amounts of
particles generate synchrotron radiation, energy can be released when material is
which is detected at radio (and X-ray) captured by a black hole. An extremely
wavelengths. In this model the very large hot high-density accretion disk is first
structure is associated with an old event, formed around the supermassive object
while the inner lobes are the result of from the material, and then some of the
more-recent ejections. The centre is still material seems to be ejected explosively
active, as evidenced by the presence of from the area, giving rise to the various
the nuclear radio source. radio jets and lobes observed.
Galaxies | 193

Another kind of event that can result to be distant galaxies and quasars, while
in an explosive eruption around a nuclear others were relatively nearby objects,
black hole involves cases of merging gal- including neutron stars (extremely dense
axies in which the nuclei of the galaxies stars composed almost exclusively of
“collide.” Because many, if not most, gal- neutrons) in the Milky Way Galaxy.
axy nuclei contain a black hole, such a A substantial number of the X-ray gal-
collision can generate an immense amount axies so far detected are also well-known
of energy as the black holes merge. radio galaxies. Some X-ray sources, such
as certain radio sources, are much too
X-ray Galaxies large to be individual galaxies but rather
consist of a whole cluster of galaxies.
Synchrotron radiation is characteristi-
cally emitted at virtually all wavelengths Clusters of Galaxies as Radio
at almost the same intensity. A synchro- and X-ray Sources
tron source therefore ought to be
detectable at optical and radio wave- Some clusters of galaxies contain a wide-
lengths, as well as at others (e.g., infrared, spread intergalactic cloud of hot gas that
ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray wave- can be detected as a diffuse radio source
lengths). For radio galaxies this does or as a large-scale source of X-rays. The
seem to be the case, at least in circum- gaseous cloud has a low density but a very
stances where the radiation is not high temperature, having been heated by
screened by absorbing material in the the motion of the cluster’s galaxies through
source or in intervening space. it and by the emission of high-energy
X-rays are absorbed by Earth’s atmo- particles from active galaxies within it.
sphere. Consequently, X-ray galaxies The form of certain radio galaxies in
could not be detected until it became clusters points rather strongly to the pres-
possible to place telescopes above the ence of intergalactic gas. These are the
atmosphere, first with balloons and “head-tail” galaxies, systems that have a
sounding rockets and later with orbiting bright source accompanied by a tail or tails
observatories specially designed for that appear swept back by their interaction
X-ray studies. For example, the Einstein with the cooler more stationary intergalac-
Observatory, which was in operation tic gas. These tails are radio lobes of ejected
during the early 1980s, made a fairly gas whose shape has been distorted by
complete search for X-ray sources across collisions with the cluster medium.
the sky and studied several of them in
detail. Beginning in 1999, the Chandra Quasars
X-ray Observatory and other orbiting X-ray
observatories detected huge numbers of An apparently new kind of radio source
emitters. Many of the sources turned out was discovered in the early 1960s when
194 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

radio astronomers identified a very small up to 100 times as much radiation as an

but powerful radio object designated 3C entire galaxy. It is a complex mixture of
48 with a stellar optical image. When they very hot gas, cooler gas and dust, and
obtained the spectrum of the optical particles that emit synchrotron radiation.
object, they found unexpected and at first Its brightness often varies over short
unexplainable emission lines superim- periods—days or even hours. The galaxy
posed on a flat continuum. This object underlying the brilliant image of a quasar
remained a mystery until another similar may be fairly normal in some of its prop-
but optically brighter object, 3C 273, was erties except for the superficial large-scale
examined in 1963. Investigators noticed effects of the quasar at its centre. Quasars
that 3C 273 had a normal spectrum with apparently are powered by the same
the same emission lines as observed in mechanism attributed to radio galaxies.
radio galaxies, though greatly redshifted They demonstrate in an extreme way
(i.e., the spectral lines are displaced to what a supermassive object at the centre
longer wavelengths), as by the Doppler of a galaxy can do.
effect. If the redshift were to be ascribed With the gradual recognition of the
to velocity, however, it would imply an causes of the quasar phenomenon has
immense velocity of recession. In the come an equally gradual realization that
case of 3C 48, the redshift had been so they are simply extreme examples of a
large as to shift familiar lines so far that process that can be observed in more
they were not recognized. Many more familiar objects. The black holes that are
such objects were found, and they came thought to inhabit the cores of the quasar
to be known as quasi-stellar radio sources, galaxies are similar to, though more
abbreviated as quasars. explosive than, those that appear to occur
Although the first 20 years of quasar in certain unusual nearer galaxies known
studies were noted more for controversy as Seyfert galaxies. The radio galaxies fall
and mystery than for progress in under- in between. The reason for the differences
standing, subsequent years finally saw a in the level of activity is apparently related
solution to the questions raised by these to the source of the gas and stars that are
strange objects. It is now clear that qua- falling into the centres of such objects,
sars are extreme examples of energetic providing the black holes with fuel. In the
galaxy nuclei. The amount of radiation case of quasars, evidence suggests that
emitted by such a nucleus overwhelms an encounter with another galaxy, which
the light from the rest of the galaxy, so causes the latter to be tidally destroyed
only very special observational techniques and its matter to fall into the centre of
can reveal the galaxy’s existence. the more massive quasar galaxy, may
A quasar has many remarkable prop- be the cause of its activity. As the mate-
erties. Although it is extremely small rial approaches the black hole, it is greatly
(only the size of the solar system), it emits accelerated, and some of it is expelled by
Galaxies | 195

the prevailing high temperatures and Andromeda Galaxy

drastically rapid motions. This process
probably also explains the impressive but The great spiral Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
lower-level activity in the nuclei of radio is the nearest external galaxy (except for
and Seyfert galaxies. The captured mass the Magellanic Clouds, which are com-
may be of lesser amount—i.e., either a panions of the Milky Way Galaxy, in
smaller galaxy or a portion of the host which Earth is located). The Andromeda
galaxy itself. Quasars are more common Galaxy is one of the few visible to the
in that part of the universe observed to unaided eye, appearing as a milky blur. It
have redshifts of about 2, meaning that is located about 2,480,000 light-years
they were more common about 10 or so from Earth; its diameter is approximately
billion years ago than they are now, which 200,000 light-years; and it shares various
is at least partly a result of the higher characteristics with the Milky Way sys-
density of galaxies at that time. tem. It was mentioned as early as 965 CE,
in the Book of the Fixed Stars, by the
Gamma-Ray Bursters Islamic astronomer s- ūfī, and rediscov-
ered in 1612, shortly after the invention of
In the 1970s a new type of object was the telescope, by the German astronomer
identified as using orbiting gamma-ray Simon Marius, who said it resembled the
detectors. These “gamma-ray bursters” light of a candle seen through a horn. For
are identified by extremely energetic centuries astronomers regarded the
bursts of gamma radiation that last only Andromeda Galaxy as a component of
seconds. In some cases the bursters are the Milky Way Galaxy—i.e., as a so-called
clearly identified with very distant galax- spiral nebula much like other glowing
ies, implying immense energies in the masses of gas within the local galactic
bursts. Possibly these are the explosions system (hence the misnomer Andromeda
of “hypernovae,” posited to be far more Nebula). Only in the 1920s did the American
energetic than supernovae and which astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble deter-
require some extreme kind of event, such mine conclusively that the Andromeda
as the merging of two neutron stars. was in fact a separate galaxy beyond the
Milky Way.
Notable galaxies and The Andromeda Galaxy has a past
galaxy clusters involving collisions with and accretion of
other galaxies. Its peculiar close compan-
These galaxies and galaxy clusters are ion, M32, shows a structure that indicates
some of the most astronomically impor- that it was formerly a normal, more massive
tant. They range from the Small galaxy that lost much of its outer parts
Magellanic Cloud to the vast Great and possibly all of its globular clusters to
Attractor. M31 in a past encounter. Deep surveys of
196 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

the outer parts of the Andromeda Galaxy Coma Cluster

have revealed huge coherent structures
of star streams and clouds, with proper- The Coma cluster is the nearest rich clus-
ties indicating that these include the ter of galaxies; it contains thousands of
outer remnants of smaller galaxies systems. The Coma cluster lies about 33
“eaten” by the giant central galaxy, as million light-years away, about seven
well as clouds of M31 stars ejected by the times farther than the Virgo cluster, in
strong tidal forces of the collision. the direction of the constellation Coma

A representation of galaxies distributed on the surfaces of what are thought to be enormous

bubblelike voids. The pie-shaped segment of the sky contains about 1,000 galaxies, all located
within 300 million light-years from the Earth. The Coma cluster of galaxies, lying near the
middle of the segment, seems to occur where several voids intersect. M.J. Geller and J.P.
Huchra, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Galaxies | 197

Berenices. The main body of the Coma reasonably ascribed to the known stellar
cluster has a diameter of about 2.5 107 populations. A similar situation exists for
light-years, but enhancements above the every rich cluster that has been examined
background can be traced out to a super- in detail. When Swiss astronomer Fritz
cluster of a diameter of about 2 108 Zwicky discovered this discrepancy in
light-years. Ellipticals or S0s constitute 1933, he inferred that much of the Coma
85 percent of the bright galaxies in the cluster was made of nonluminous matter.
Coma cluster; the two brightest ellipticals The existence of nonluminous matter, or
in Coma are located near the centre of the “dark matter,” was later confirmed in the
system and are individually more than 10 1970s by American astronomers Vera
times as luminous as the Andromeda Rubin and W. Kent Ford.
Galaxy. These galaxies have a swarm of
smaller companions orbiting them and Cygnus A
may have grown to their bloated sizes by
a process of “galactic cannibalism” like Cygnus A is the most powerful cosmic
that hypothesized to explain the super- source of radio waves known, lying in the
giant elliptical cD systems. northern constellation Cygnus about
The spatial distribution of galaxies in 500,000,000 light-years (4.8 × 1021 km [3 x
rich clusters such as the Coma cluster 1021 miles]) from Earth. It has the appear-
closely resembles what one would expect ance of a double galaxy. For a time it was
theoretically for a bound set of bodies thought to be two galaxies in collision,
moving in the collective gravitational but the energy output is too large to be
field of the system. Yet, if one measures accounted for in that way. Radio energy is
the dispersion of random velocities of the emitted from Cygnus A at an estimated
Coma galaxies about the mean, one finds 1045 ergs per second, more than 1011 times
that it amounts to almost 900 km per the rate at which energy of all kinds is emit-
second (500 miles per second). For a gal- ted by the Sun. The source of the energy
axy possessing this random velocity of Cygnus A remains undetermined.
along a typical line of sight to be gravita-
tionally bound within the known Great Attractor
dimensions of the cluster requires Coma
to have a total mass of about 5 1015 solar The Great Attractor is a proposed con-
masses. The total luminosity of the Coma centration of mass that influences the
cluster is measured to be about 3 1013 movement of many galaxies, including
solar luminosities; therefore, the mass- the Milky Way. In 1986 a group of astron-
to-light ratio in solar units required to omers observing the motions of the Milky
explain Coma as a bound system exceeds Way and neighbouring galaxies noted
by an order of magnitude what can be that the galaxies were moving toward the
198 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Hydra-Centaurus superclusters in the light-years from Earth, and the SMC lies
southern sky with velocities significantly 190,000 light-years away. The LMC and
different from those predicted by the SMC are 14,000 and 7,000 light-years in
expansion of the universe in accordance diameter, respectively, and are smaller
with the Hubble law. One possible expla- than the Milky Way Galaxy, which is
nation for this perturbation in the Hubble about 140,000 light-years across.
flow is the existence of the so-called Great The Magellanic Clouds were formed
Attractor—a region or structure of huge at about the same time as the Milky Way
mass (equivalent to tens of thousands of Galaxy, approximately 13 billion years
galaxies) exerting a gravitational pull on ago. They are presently captured in orbits
the surrounding galaxies. It is estimated around the Milky Way Galaxy and have
that the Great Attractor would have a experienced several tidal encounters with
diameter of about 300 million light-years each other and with the Galaxy. They
and that its centre would lie about 147 contain numerous young stars and star
million light-years away from Earth. clusters, as well as some much older stars.
The Magellanic Clouds serve as excellent
Magellanic Clouds laboratories for the study of very active
stellar formation and evolution. With the
The Magellanic Clouds are two satellite Hubble Space Telescope it is possible for
galaxies of the Milky Way Galaxy, the astronomers to study the kinds of stars,
vast star system of which Earth is a minor star clusters, and nebulae that previously
component. These companion galaxies could be observed in great detail only in
were named for the Portuguese navigator the Milky Way Galaxy.
Ferdinand Magellan, whose crew discov-
ered them during the first voyage around M81 Group
the world (1519–22).
The Magellanic Clouds are irregular The M81 group of more than 40 galaxies
galaxies that share a gaseous envelope is found at a distance of 12 million light-
and lie about 22° apart in the sky near years from Earth, one of the nearest
the south celestial pole. One of them, the galaxy groups to the Local Group (the
Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), is a lumi- group of galaxies that includes the Milky
nous patch about 5° in diameter, and the Way Galaxy). The dominant galaxy in
other, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), the M81 group is the spiral galaxy M81.
measures less than 2° across. The Mag­ Much like the Andromeda and Milky
ellanic Clouds are visible to the unaided Way galaxies, M81 is of Hubble type Sb
eye in the Southern Hemisphere, but they and luminosity class II.
cannot be observed from the northern There are two subgroups in the M81
latitudes. The LMC is about 160,000 group: one group is associated with
Galaxies | 199

M81 and another is associated with the in interstellar space prevent nearly all
spiral galaxy NGC 2403. These two sub- visible light emitted by external galaxies
groups are moving toward each other. from reaching Earth.
The total mass of the M81 group has been Maffei I is a large elliptical galaxy.
determined from the motion of galaxies At about 3,000,000 light-years’ distance,
within it to be 1 1012 solar masses. M81 has it is close enough to belong to what is
a mass of 6.7 1011 solar masses. called the Local Group of galaxies, of
The M81 group also has a few galax- which the Milky Way Galaxy is a mem-
ies with classifications similar to those of ber. Maffei II has a spiral structure and is
galaxies in the Local Group, and it was about three times farther away than
noticed by some astronomers that the Maffei I.
linear sizes of the largest H II regions
(which are illuminated by many OB stars) Virgo A
in these galaxies had about the same
intrinsic sizes as their counterparts in Virgo A (catalog numbers M87, and
the Local Group. This led American NGC4486, ) is a giant elliptical galaxy in
astronomer Allan Sandage and the the constellation Virgo whose nucleus
German chemist and physicist Gustav provides the strongest observational
Tammann to the (controversial) tech- evidence for the existence of a black
nique of using the sizes of H II regions as hole. Virgo A is the most powerful known
a distance indicator, because a measure- source of radio energy among the thou-
ment of their angular sizes, coupled with sands of galactic systems comprising
knowledge of their linear sizes, allows an the so-called Virgo cluster. It is also a
inference of distance. powerful X-ray source, which suggests
the presence of very hot gas in the gal-
Maffei I and II axy. A luminous gaseous jet projects
outward from the galactic nucleus. Both
The two galaxies Maffei I and II are rela- the jet and the nucleus emit synchrotron
tively close to the Milky Way Galaxy but radiation, a form of nonthermal radia-
were unobserved until the late 1960s, tion released by charged particles that
when the Italian astronomer Paolo are accelerated in magnetic fields and
Maffei detected them by their infrared travel at speeds near that of light. Virgo
radiation. Studies in the United States A lies about 50 million light-years from
established that the objects are galaxies. the Earth.
Lying near the border between the con- In 1994 the Hubble Space Telescope
stellations Perseus and Cassiopeia, they obtained images of Virgo A that showed
are close to the plane of the Milky Way, a disk of hot, ionized gas about 500
where obscuring dust clouds light-years in diameter at a distance of
200 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

about 60 light-years from the galaxy’s Virgo Cluster

centre. The disk’s gases are revolving
about the nucleus at a speed of about The Virgo cluster is the closest large clus-
550 km per second, or about 1.9 million ter of galaxies; it is located at a distance
km (1.2 million miles) per hour, a velocity of about 5 × 107 light-years in the direction
so great that only the gravitational pull of the constellation Virgo. More than 2,000
of an object with a mass six billion times galaxies reside in the Virgo cluster, scat-
that of the Sun would be capable of tered in various subclusters whose largest
holding the disk together. This super- concentration (near the famous system
massive object could occupy a region M87 [Virgo A]) is about 5 × 106 light-years
as small as the galactic nucleus only if in diameter. Of the galaxies in the Virgo
it were a black hole. Gravitational cluster, 58 percent are spirals, 27 percent
energy released by gas spiraling down are ellipticals, and the rest are irregulars.
into the black hole produces a beam of Although spirals are more numerous, the
electrons accelerated almost to the four brightest galaxies are giant ellipticals,
speed of light; the bright gaseous jet among them Virgo A. Calibration of the
that emanates from Virgo A is thought absolute brightnesses of these giant ellip-
to be radiation from this beam of ticals allows a leap to the measurement of
electrons. distant regular clusters.
Appendix: Other Stars and
Star Clusters

S cattered throughout the sky are a

myriad of stars and clusters of stars.
Some, such as Antares and Spica, are
Big Dipper (Ursa Major); however, the
two are three light-years apart and thus
are not gravitationally bound to each
prominent in the night sky or have other. The ability to separate the dim star
unusual properties, such as Mira Ceti or Alcor from Mizar 0.2° away with the
Geminga. Others, including HD 209458 unaided eye may have been regarded by
or 61 Cygni, have been prominent in the the Arabs (and others) as a test of good
history of astronomy. vision. The pair have also been called the
Horse and Rider.
61 Cygni
In 1838, German astronomer Friedrich
Wilhelm Bessel obtained a distance of Aldebaran (Arabic: “The Follower”) is a
10.3 light-years for 61 Cygni, the first star reddish giant star in the constellation
whose distance from Earth was measured. Taurus. Aldebaran (also called Alpha
The European Space Agency satellite Tauri) is one of the 15 brightest stars, with
Hipparcos made much more accurate an apparent visual magnitude of 0.85. Its
distance measurements than ground- diameter is 44 times that of the Sun. It is
based telescopes had accomplished and accompanied by a very faint (13th magni-
obtained a distance to 61 Cygni of 11.4 tude) red companion star. Aldebaran lies
light-years. The star is a visual binary, the 65 light-years from Earth. The star was
components of which revolve around once thought to be a member of the
each other in a period of 659 years, and is Hyades cluster, but in fact Aldebaran is
located in the northern constellation 85 light-years closer to Earth. Aldebaran
Cygnus. They are of fifth and sixth was probably named “The Follower”
magnitudes. because it rises after the Pleiades cluster
of stars.
Alcor (Arabic: “Faint One”) is a star with
apparent magnitude of 4.01. Alcor makes Algol, or Beta Persei, is the prototype of a
a visual double with the brighter star class of variable stars called eclipsing
Mizar in the middle of the handle of the binaries, the second brightest star in the
202 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

northern constellation Perseus. Its appar- seems to come from a Greek phrase
ent visual magnitude changes over the meaning “rival of Ares” (i.e., rival of the
range of 2.1 to 3.4 with a period of 2.87 planet Mars) and was probably given
days. Even at its dimmest it remains read- because of the star’s colour and
ily visible to the unaided eye. The name brightness.
probably derives from an Arabic phrase
meaning “demon,” or “mischief-maker,” Barnard’s star
and the Arabs may have been aware of
the star’s variability even before the Barnard’s star is the third nearest star to
invention of the telescope. the Sun (after Proxima Centauri and
The first European astronomer to Alpha Centauri’s A and B components
note the light variation was the Italian considered together), at a distance of
Geminiano Montanari in 1670; the English about 6 light-years. It is named for Edward
astronomer John Goodricke measured Emerson Barnard, the American astrono-
the cycle (69 hours) in 1782 and suggested mer who discovered it in 1916. Barnard’s
partial eclipses of the star by another star has the largest proper motion of any
body as a cause, a hypothesis proved known star—10.25 seconds of arc annu-
correct in 1889. The comparatively long ally. It is a red dwarf star with a visual
duration of the eclipse shows that the magnitude of 9.5; its intrinsic luminosity
dimensions of the two stars are not negli- is only 1/2,600 that of the Sun.
gible in comparison with the distance Because of its high velocity of
between them. A third star, which does approach, 108 km (67 miles) per second,
not take part in the eclipses, revolves Barnard’s star is gradually coming nearer
about the other two with a period of the solar system and by the year 11,800
1.862 years. will reach its closest point in distance—
namely, 3.85 light-years. The star is of
Antares special interest to astronomers because
its proper motion, observed photographi-
Antares is a red, semiregular variable cally between the years 1938–81, was
star, with apparent visual magnitude thought to show periodic deviations of
about 1.1, the brightest star in the zodia- 0.02 seconds of arc. This “perturbation”
cal constellation Scorpius and one of the was interpreted as being caused by the
largest known stars, having several hun- gravitational pull of two planetary com-
dred times the diameter of the Sun and panions having orbital periods of 13.5
10,000 times the Sun’s luminosity. It has a and 19 years, respectively, and masses of
fifth-magnitude blue companion. Antares about two-thirds that of Jupiter. However,
(also called Alpha Scorpii) lies about 600 this finding has not been supported by
light-years from the Earth. The name results from other methods of detection.
Appendix: Other Stars and Star Clusters | 203


Beta Lyrae is an eclipsing binary star,

the two component stars of which are so
close together that they are greatly dis-
torted by their mutual attraction; they
exchange material and share a common
atmosphere. Beta Lyrae is a member of a
class of binary systems known as W
Serpentis stars. It is of about third mag-
nitude and lies in the northern
constellation Lyra.
The variable character of Beta Lyrae
was discovered in 1784 by the English
amateur astronomer John Goodricke. Its
period of about 13 days is increasing by
about 19 seconds per year, probably Debris disk surrounding the star Beta
because the stars are steadily losing mass Pictoris, in an image gathered by the
to a continually expanding gaseous ring European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-metre
(140-inch) telescope at La Silla, Chile. The
surrounding them.
warping seen in the disk’s bright inner
region may be indirect evidence for one or
BETA PICTORIS more orbiting planets. European Southern
The fourth-magnitude star Beta Pictoris
is located 60 light-years from Earth in
the southern constellation Pictor and is with the Hubble Space Telescope revealed
notable for an encircling disk of debris the disk to be warped and its inner
that might contain planets. The star is regions to be relatively clear. A likely,
of a common type somewhat hotter and but not exclusive, explanation for these
more luminous than the Sun. In 1983 it characteristics is that one or more extra-
was discovered to be an unexpectedly solar planets exist there. The outer part
strong source of infrared radiation of of the disk shows rings, possibly caused
the character that would be produced by a passing star. In 2008, infrared
by a disk of material surrounding the images showed a possible planet orbit-
star. The disk was later imaged and ing Beta Pictoris. This planet is estimated
found to have a width roughly 2,000 to have a mass eight times that of Jupiter
times the Earth-Sun distance (2,000 and to be at a distance from Beta Pictoris
astronomical units [AU]). Observations of 8 AU.
204 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

Canopus additional two component stars form an

eclipsing binary system of red dwarfs
Canopus, or Alpha Carinae, is the second revolving around each other in less than
brightest star (after Sirius) in the night a day and orbiting the four main stars
sky, with a visual magnitude of −0.73. in a period of 14,000 years. The system is
Lying in the southern constellation 51.5 light-years from Earth.
Carina, 310 light-years from Earth,
Canopus is sometimes used as a guide in Cor Caroli
the attitude control of spacecraft because
of its angular distance from the Sun and Cor Caroli, which is also called Alpha
the contrast of its brightness among Canum Venaticorum, is a binary star
nearby celestial objects. The Syrian Stoic located 110 light-years from Earth in the
philosopher Poseidonius (c. 135–50 BCE) constellation Canes Venatici and con-
used sightings of Canopus near the hori- sisting of a brighter component (A) of
zon in his estimation of the size of Earth. visual magnitude 2.9 and a companion
(B) of magnitude 5.5. It is the prototype
Capella for a group of unusual spectrum-variable
stars that show strong and fluctuating
Capella (also called Alpha Aurigae) is the absorption lines of silicon, chromium,
sixth brightest star in the night sky and strontium, or certain rare earths. Europium
the brightest in the constellation Auriga, apparently is concentrated around one
with an apparent visual magnitude of magnetic pole, chromium around the
0.08. Capella (Latin: “She-Goat”) is a other. Cor Caroli (“Heart of Charles”) was
spectroscopic binary comprising two named by Sir Edmond Halley for King
G-type giant stars that orbit each other Charles II of England.
every 104 days. It lies 42.2 light-years
from Earth. Cygnus X-1

Castor The binary star system Cygnus X-1 is a

strong source of X-rays and provided the
Castor, which is also called Alpha first major evidence for the existence of
Geminorum, is a multiple star having six black holes. Cygnus X-1 is located about
component stars, in the zodiacal con- 7,000 light-years from Earth in the con-
stellation Gemini. The stars Castor and stellation Cygnus. The primary star, HDE
Pollux are named for the twins of Greek 226868, is a hot supergiant revolving
mythology. Castor’s combined apparent about an unseen companion with a period
visual magnitude is 1.58. It appears as a of 5.6 days. Analysis of the binary orbit
bright visual binary, of which both led to the finding that the companion has
members are spectroscopic binaries. An a mass greater than seven solar masses.
Appendix: Other Stars and Star Clusters | 205

(The mass has been determined from a hot main-sequence star surrounded by
subsequent observations to be nearly an immense ring or shell of gas that
nine solar masses.) A star of that mass eclipses the primary for two years.
should have a detectable spectrum, but
the companion does not; from this and Eta Carinae
other evidence astronomers have argued
that it must be a black hole. The X-ray Eta Carinae, which is also called Homun­
emission is understood as being due to culus Nebula, is a peculiar red star and
matter torn from the primary star that nebula about 7,500 light-years from Earth
is being heated as it is drawn to the in the southern constellation Carina and
black hole. is now known to be a binary star system.
It is one of a small class of stars called
Delta Cephei luminous blue variables. The English
astronomer Sir Edmond Halley noted it
Delta Cephei is the prototype star of in 1677 as a star of about fourth magni-
the class of Cepheid variables and is tude. In 1838 Sir John Herschel observed
in the constellation Cepheus. Its appar- it as a first-magnitude star. By 1843 it had
ent visual magnitude at minimum is 4.34 reached its greatest recorded brightness,
and at maximum 3.51, changing in a regu- approximately −1 magnitude, or as bright
lar cycle of about five days and nine hours. as the brightest stars. Unlike the common
Its variations in brightness were discov- types of exploding stars called novae and
ered in 1784 by the English amateur supernovae, it remained bright for sev-
astronomer John Goodricke, and peri- eral years. From about 1857 it faded
odic changes in radial velocity (now steadily, disappearing to the unaided eye
attributed to pulsation) were established only about 1870. Since then it has varied
in 1894. irregularly about the seventh magnitude.
The nebula around the star was formed
Epsilon Aurigae during its 19th-century brightening and
is an expanding shell of gas and dust,
The binary star system Epsilon Aurigae shaped like an hourglass with a disk at
is of about third magnitude and has one its centre.
of the longest orbital periods (27 years) In 2005 astronomers studying far-
among eclipsing binaries. It is located an ultraviolet spectral observations of Eta
estimated 2,000 light-years from Earth in Carinae made by spacecraft found that it
the constellation Auriga. The primary is a binary star system with an orbital
star is a yellow-white star about 200 times period of 5.52 years. Its A component has
the size of the Sun. The secondary star, a temperature of about 15,000 K; its B
once thought to be thousands of times component, about 35,000 K. The main
the size of the Sun, is now believed to be star in Eta Carinae is about 100 times
206 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

more massive than the Sun. Its luminosity afterward, astronomers independently
has been estimated as five million times confirmed the planet’s presence by
that of the Sun. Flaring events produc- observing that HD 209458 changed in
ing not only visible effects but also brightness with the same 3.5-day period
X-ray, ultraviolet, and radio-wave effects predicted from the discovery data for the
have been observed. It is expected to planet’s orbit. Although the planet could
become a supernova in the next several not be seen directly, its passages between
thousand years. its star and Earth provided important
information about its physical properties
Geminga and atmosphere not otherwise available.
The extrasolar planet is about 1.3 times
The isolated pulsar Geminga is about the size of Jupiter but has only two-thirds
800 light-years from Earth in the constel- of Jupiter’s mass. It orbits surprisingly
lation Gemini and is unique in that close to the star—about 10 stellar radii.
about 99 percent of its radiation is in the
gamma-ray region of the spectrum. HR 8799
Geminga is also a weak X-ray emitter, but
it was not identified in visible light (as a The star HR 8799 has the first extrasolar
25th-magnitude object) until nearly two planetary system to be seen directly in
decades after its discovery in 1972. It was an astronomical image. HR 8799 is a
the first pulsar not detected at radio young (about 60 million years old) main-
wavelengths. It pulsates with a period of sequence star of spectral type A5 V
0.237 second, has a radius of about 10 located 128 light-years from Earth in the
km (6 miles), and probably originated in constellation Pegasus. Observations of
a supernova explosion about 300,000 this star taken by the Infrared Astro­
years ago. nomical Satellite and the Infrared Space
Observatory showed a disk of dust such
HD 209458 as that expected in the last stages of plan-
etary formation. In 2008 an international
The seventh-magnitude star HD 209458, team of astronomers released images
150 light-years away in the constellation taken with the telescopes at the Keck and
Pegasus, was the first star that had a Gemini North observatories of three
planet detected by its transit across the planets orbiting HR 8799. Observations
star’s face. The star, which has physical taken over the period 2004–08 showed
characteristics similar to those of the Sun, that the planets moved with the star and
was shown in late 1999 to have a planet therefore were not background objects.
by detection of the planet’s gravitational The planets range in mass from 7 to 10
effects on the star’s motion. Shortly times that of Jupiter and orbit between
Appendix: Other Stars and Star Clusters | 207

3.6 and 10.2 billion km (2.2 and 6.3 billion

miles) from HR 8799. These planets are
gas giants with temperatures of about
900 to 1,100 kelvins (600 to 800 °C, or
1,200 to 1,500 °F).


The Hyades is a cluster of several hun-

dred stars in the zodiacal constellation
Taurus. As seen from Earth, the bright
star Aldebaran appears to be a member
of the cluster, but in fact Aldebaran is
much closer to the Earth than the Hyades’
distance of about 150 light-years. Five
genuine members of the group are Composite image of Kepler’s Nova, or Kep-
visible to the unaided eye. Their name ler’s Supernova, taken by the Chandra X-ray
(Greek: “the rainy ones”) is derived from Observatory. NASA, ESA, R. Sankrit and W.
the ancient association of spring rain Blair, Johns Hopkins University
with the season of their heliacal (near
dawn) rising.
at the time as evidence of the mutability
KEPLER’S NOvA of the stars.

Kepler’s Nova was one of the few super- MIRA CETI

novae (violent stellar explosions) known
to have occurred in the Milky Way Galaxy. Mira Ceti, which is also called Omicron
Jan Brunowski, Johannes Kepler’s assis- Ceti, was the first variable star (apart from
tant, first observed the phenomenon in novae) to be discovered, lying in the south-
October 1604; Kepler studied it until ern constellation Cetus, and the prototype
early 1606, when the supernova was no of a class known as long-period variables,
longer visible to the unaided eye. At its or Mira stars. There is some evidence that
greatest apparent magnitude (about -2.5), ancient Babylonian astronomers noticed
the exploding star was brighter than its variable character. In a systematic study
Jupiter. No stellar remnant is known to in 1638, a Dutch astronomer, Phocylides
exist, though traces of nebulosity are Holwarda, found that the star disappeared
observable at the position of the super- and reappeared in a varying cycle of about
nova. Like Tycho’s Nova, Kepler’s served 330 days. It thus acquired the name Mira
208 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

(Latin: “Mirac­ulous”). Its brightness varies amateur astronomer J.P.M. Prentice, in

from cycle to cycle, but generally it is about the northern constellation Hercules. It
magnitude 3 at maximum light and mag- reached an apparent visual magnitude of
nitude 9 at minimum. Mira is a binary; the 1.4 and remained visible to the unaided
red giant primary has a faint bluish white eye for months. At its centre was found an
companion. In 2006 the ultraviolet satel- eclipsing binary pair of small stars, revolv-
lite observatory Galaxy Evolution Explorer ing around each other with a period of 4
discovered that Mira had shed material hours and 39 minutes. One component is
into a cometary tail 13 light-years in length. a rapidly spinning white dwarf star accret-
Mira is about 350 light-years from Earth. ing material from its companion.

Mizar Nova Persei

Mizar, also called Zeta Ursae Majoris, was Nova Persei, or GK Persei, was a bright
the first star found (by the Italian astrono- nova that attained an absolute magnitude
mer Giovanni Battista Riccioli in 1650) to of −9.2. Spectroscopic observations of the
be a visual binary—i.e., to consist of two nova, which appeared in 1901, provided
optically distinguishable components important information about interstellar
revolving around each other. Later, each of gas. The shell thrown off by the explod-
the visual components was determined to ing star was unusually asymmetrical, and
be a spectroscopic binary; Mizar is actually a bright nebulosity near the star appeared
a quadruple star. Apparent visual magni- to be expanding incredibly fast, at practi-
tudes of the two visual components are cally the speed of light. This apparent
2.27 and 3.95. Set in the middle of the Big speed is thought to have been an effect
Dipper’s handle, Mizar (Arabic: “Veil,” or of reflection within a preexisting dark neb-
“Cloak”) makes a visual double with the ula around the star. From this phenomenon,
fainter Alcor (Arabic: “Faint One”); how- sometimes called a light echo, it is possible
ever, the two are three light-years apart and to calculate the distance of the nova from
thus are not gravitationally bound to each Earth, about 1,500 light-years.
other. The ability to separate the dim star
Alcor from Mizar 0.2° away with the unaided Omega Centauri
eye may have been regarded by the Arabs
(and others) as a test of good vision. Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) is the
brightest globular star cluster. It is located
Nova Herculis in the southern constellation Centaurus.
It has a magnitude of 3.7 and is visible to
Nova Herculis, or DQ Herculis, was one the unaided eye as a faint luminous patch.
of the brightest novae of the 20th century, Omega Centauri is about 16,000 light-
discovered Dec. 13, 1934, by the British years from Earth and is thus one of the
Appendix: Other Stars and Star Clusters | 209

nearer globular clusters. It is estimated to average distance of 253 million km (157

contain several million stars; several million miles). Pollux is the brightest star
hundred variables have been observed in with a known extrasolar planet.
it. There is some evidence for a black hole
at the centre of Omega Centauri that is Praesepe
40,000 times as massive as the Sun. The
English astronomer John Herschel in the Praesepe, which is also known as the
1830s was the first to recognize it as a star Beehive, is an open cluster of about 1,000
cluster and not a nebula. stars in the zodiacal constellation Cancer
and is located about 550 light-years from
Pleione Earth. Visible to the unaided eye as a
small patch of bright haze, it was first dis-
Pleione is a star in the Pleiades, thought tinguished as a group of stars by Galileo.
to be typical of the shell stars, so called It was included by Hipparchus in the ear-
because in their rapid rotation they throw liest known star catalog, c. 129 BCE.
off shells of gas. In 1938 sudden changes The name Praesepe (Latin: “Cradle,”
in the spectrum of Pleione were attrib- or “Manger”) was used even before
uted to the ejection of a gaseous shell, Hipparchus’ time. The name Beehive is
which by 1952 had apparently dissipated. of uncertain but more recent origin.
Pleione is a blue-white star of about the
fifth magnitude. Some astronomers con- Procyon
jecture that it may have been brighter in
the past; it would then have made a sev- Procyon is the brightest star in the north-
enth bright star in the Pleiades cluster, ern constellation Canis Minor (Latin:
which is named for seven mythological “Lesser Dog”) and one of the brightest in
sisters. the entire sky, with an apparent visual
magnitude of 0.41. Procyon lies 11.4 light-
Pollux years from Earth and is a visual binary, a
bright yellow-white subgiant with a faint,
Pollux is the brightest star in the zodiacal white dwarf companion of about the 10th
constellation Gemini. A reddish giant magnitude. The name apparently derives
star, it has an apparent visual magnitude from Greek words for “before the dog,” in
of 1.15. The stars Castor and Pollux are reference to the constellation.
named for the mythological twins. Pollux
is also called Beta Geminorum and is 33.7 Ras Algethi
light-years from Earth. In 2006, a planet,
Pollux b, was discovered. Pollux b has Ras Algethi, which is also called Alpha
nearly three times the mass of Jupiter, Herculis, is a red supergiant star, whose
orbits Pollux every 590 days, and is at an diameter is nearly twice that of Earth’s
210 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

orbit. It lies in the constellation Hercules discovered in the direction of the con-
and is of about third magnitude, its stellation Scorpius. Detected in 1962, its
brightness varying by about a magnitude X-radiation is not only strong but, like
every 128 days. It is 380 light-years from other X-ray sources, quite variable as well.
Earth. The name comes from an Arabic Its variability exhibits two states, one at
phrase meaning “the kneeler’s head,” higher output with great variability on a
referring to the Arabic name of the time scale of minutes and another at
constellation. lower output with the variability corre-
spondingly lessened.
Regulus Scorpius X-1 was observed in visible
light for the first time in 1966. Optically
Regulus, or Alpha Leonis, is the brightest it is much less impressive, bluish in
star in the zodiacal constellation Leo and colour and appearing only faintly.
one of the brightest in the entire sky, hav- Scorpius X-1 is a close double star,
ing an apparent visual magnitude of one component of which is optically
about 1.35. It is 77 light-years from Earth. invisible—a neutron star. The X-rays are
The name Regulus, derived from a Latin generated when matter from the optically
word for king, reflects an ancient belief in visible, bluish hot star falls onto the
the astrological importance of the star. neutron star. This matter is tremendously
accelerated and crushed by the enor-
Rigel mous gravity of the neutron star. Unlike
the majority of binary X-ray sources, the
Rigel (Beta Orionis) is one of the bright- visible member does not appear to be
est stars in the sky, intrinsically as well very massive; it is only 42 percent the
as in appearance. A blue-white super- mass of the Sun. The neutron star is 1.4
giant in the constellation Orion, Rigel is solar masses. Scorpius X-1 is about 9,000
about 870 light-years from the Sun and light-years from Earth.
is about 47,000 times as luminous. A
companion double star, also bluish white, S Doradus
is of the sixth magnitude. The name Rigel
derives from an Arabic term meaning S Doradus is a variable supergiant star in
“the left leg of the giant,” referring to the the Large Magellanic Cloud. S Doradus
figure of Orion. (and the Large Magellanic Cloud) is
visible to viewers in the Southern Hemi­
Scorpius X-1 sphere in the constellation Dorado. It is
one of the most luminous stars known,
Scorpius X-1 is the brightest X-ray radiating more than 1,000,000 times as
source in the sky and the first such object much energy as the Sun.
Appendix: Other Stars and Star Clusters | 211

Spica occur during supernovae. Study of the

evolving remnant continued into the 21st
Spica (Latin: “Head of Grain”) is the century.
brightest star in the zodiacal constella-
tion Virgo and one of the 15 brightest in Tycho’s Nova
the entire sky, having an apparent visual
magnitude of 0.98. It is a bluish star; Tycho’s Nova (SN 1572) was one of the
spectroscopic examination reveals Spica few recorded supernovae in the Milky
to be a binary with a four-day period, its Way Galaxy. The Danish astronomer
two components being of the first and Tycho Brahe first observed the “new star”
third magnitudes, respectively. Spica lies on Nov. 11, 1572. Other European observ-
about 250 light-years from Earth. ers claimed to have noticed it as early as
the preceding August, but Tycho’s pre-
Supernova 1987A cise measurements showed that it was
not some relatively nearby phenomenon,
Supernova 1987A was the first supernova such as a comet, but at the distance of the
observed in 1987 (hence its designation) stars, and that therefore real changes
and the nearest to Earth in more than could occur among them.
three centuries. It occurred in the Large The supernova remained visible to
Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the unaided eye until March 1574. It
the Milky Way Galaxy that lies about attained the apparent magnitude of
160,000 light-years distant. The super- Venus (about −4) and could be seen by
nova originated in the collapse and day. There is no known stellar remnant
subsequent explosion of a supergiant but only traces of glowing nebulosity. It
star, and it is unique in that its progenitor is, however, a radio and X-ray source. In
star had been observed and cataloged 2008 a team of international astronomers
prior to the event. The fact that the super- used light from the original explosive
giant was hotter than expected for an event reflected off nearby interstellar
immediate progenitor led to important dust to determine that Tycho’s Nova
improvements in supernova theory. A was a Type Ia supernova, which occurs
burst of neutrinos that accompanied the when a white dwarf star accretes material
star’s collapse was detected on Earth, from a companion star and that mate-
providing verification of theoretical rial explodes in a thermonuclear reaction
predictions of nuclear processes that that destroys the white dwarf.
binary star A pair of stars in orbit nebulae A mass of interstellar gas
around a common centre of gravity. and dust.
black hole An area in space with an nova A star that brightens temporarily
intense gravitational field whose while ejecting a shell explosively.
escape velocity exceeds the speed photons Packets of radiation.
of light. protostars A contracting mass of gas
cloud cores The densest regions of that represents an early stage in the
molecular clouds, where stars formation of a star, before nucleo-
typically form. synthesis has begun.
dwarf stars Low-luminosity stars. pulsars Neutron stars that emit pulses
eclipsing binary Two close stars of radiation once per rotation.
moving in an orbit so placed in quasars The abbreviation for quasi-
space in relation to Earth that the stellar radio sources, which emit up
light of one can at times be hidden to 100 times as much radiation as an
behind the other. entire galaxy.
extrasolar Revolving around stars other recombination The process by which
than the Sun. the higher stage of ionization cap-
interferometer An instrument that tures an electron, usually at low
combines light waves from two or energies, into a high level of the ion.
more different optical paths and thermal ionization The process at higher
can be used to measure the angle temperatures where collisions between
subtended by the diameter of a star atoms and electrons and the absorption
at the observer’s position. of radiation tend to detach electrons
kinematics The study of motion. and produce singly ionized atoms.
light-year The distance that light waves z distances Distances above the plane
travel in one Earth year. of the Galaxy.
For Further Reading
Block, David L., and Kenneth C. the Black Holes That Drive Them.
Freeman. Shrouds of the Night: London, England: Springer, 2007.
Masks of the Milky Way and Our Kwok, Sun. The Origin and Evolution of
Awesome New View of Galaxies. Planetary Nebulae. Cambridge,
Berlin, Germany: Springer, 2008. England: Cambridge University
Buta, Ronald J., et. al. The de Vaucouleurs Press, 2007.
Atlas of Galaxies. Cambridge, Percy, John R. Understanding Variable
England: Cambridge University Stars. Cambridge, England:
Press, 2007. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Clark, Stuart. Galaxy: Exploring the Rees, Martin, ed. Universe. New York,
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A Book of the Fixed Stars, 195
Bright Star Catalogue, 57
Albireo, 54
brown dwarfs, 27, 35, 45, 52, 57, 59, 60, 65,
Aldebaran, 46, 68
94–96, 186
Algol, 61, 112
Alpha Centauri, 13, 46, 49, 50, 53, 122
Altair, 46, 123 C
Ambartsumian, Victor A., 117–118 Canopus, 46, 53, 122
Andromeda Galaxy, 18, 28, 29, 37, 121, 146, Capella, 46, 67, 68, 88
180, 184, 186, 187, 190, 195–196, 197, 198 carbon cycle, 86–87, 88, 92
Antares, 46, 79, 89 Cassiopeia A, 156, 159–160
Arcturus, 46, 68, 122, 123 Cassiopeia-Taurus Group, 36
astronomical unit, definition of, 60 Cepheid period-luminosity (P-L) law, 184
Cepheids, 29, 38, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 78, 112, 115,
B 121, 124, 168, 170, 173, 174, 175, 176, 183, 184
Chandrasekhar limit, 101, 103
Baade, Walter, 28–29, 151 charge-coupled devices (CCDs), 132
Barnard’s star, 39, 50 Clark, Alvan, 126
Bell, Jocelyn, 106 cloud cores, 90–91
Bessel, Friedrich W., 61, 126 Coalsack, 138, 160
Beta Canis Majoris, 73, 74, 75 Coma Berenices, 110–111, 114, 196–197
Beta Pictoris, 67 Coma cluster, 196–197
Betelgeuse, 46, 54, 75, 79, 123 Cosmic Background Explorer, 44
big bang, 97, 98, 109, 148, 151, 165, 167 cosmic rays, 99, 102, 139, 155
binary/double stars, 46, 50–51, 52, 56, 63–67, Crab Nebula, 79, 99, 107, 157–158
69, 70, 71, 76–77, 78, 79, 80, 82, 93, 96, 101, Crab Pulsar, 106, 107
102, 104, 106, 107, 108, 109, 112, 118, 121, Cygnus A, 197
125, 126, 157, 169 Cygnus Loop (Veil Nebula), 158
eclipsing binary stars, 60, 61–62, 67–68, 72, Cysat, Johann, 162
73, 77, 80, 82, 112, 115
spectroscopic binary stars, 60, 61, 62, 63,
67, 124
visual binary stars, 60–61, 67, 72 dark energy, 78, 101
black dwarfs, 104 dark matter, 27–28, 127, 186
black holes, 14, 22, 77–78, 79, 100–101, 108–109, Darquier, Augustin, 162
156, 192, 193, 194, 200 Delta Scuti, 73, 76
blue stragglers, 116 Deneb, 54, 123
bolometric magnitude, 55 density distribution of stars, 35–38
Index | 215

density-wave pattern/theory, 24, 37 79, 110, 112, 113, 114–117, 119, 120, 121,
diffuse ionized gas, 129, 130, 158–159 122, 151, 165, 166, 170, 171, 173, 174, 176,
Draper, Henry, 162 185, 195
“Gould Belt,” 36
E Great Attractor, 191, 195, 197–198
Great Rift, 160
echelle spectrograph, 133 Greenstein, Jesse L., 30
eclipsing binary stars, 60, 61–62, 67–68, 72, 73, Gum, Colin S., 142, 160
77, 80, 82, 112, 115 Gum Nebula, 142, 160
Eddington, Arthur, 72, 75, 76
Eddington limit, 59
Einstein, Albert, 107, 108 H
elliptical galaxies, explanation of, 177–178 Halley, Edmund, 114
Epsilon Orionis, 58 Hawking, Stephen, 109
explosive variables, 73, 76–78 Helfer, H. Lawrence, 30
Henry Draper Catalogue, 57
F Herschel, John, 36, 120, 131
Fabry-Pérot interferometers, 133 Herschel, William, 131
51 Pegasi, 63, 122 Hertzsprung, Ejnar, 68, 70
flare stars, 74, 78–79, 112 Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, 68, 70, 92, 93
Fomalhaut, 67, 123–124 Hewish, Antony, 106
Ford, W. Kent, 197 Horsehead Nebula, 160–161
formation function, 34, 35 H II regions, 16, 90, 129, 130, 133–134, 136,
Freedman, Wendy, 183 141–148, 149, 150, 158, 159, 160, 161, 174,
184, 199
Hubble, Edwin, 177, 178, 179, 180, 182, 183, 184,
188, 195
galaxies Hubble’s constant, 185
external, 183–189 Hubble Space Telescope (HST) distance
formation and evolution of, 16, 165–167 scale project, 183–184
as a radio source, 191–195 Hulse, Russell, 106–107
types of, 177–183 Huygens, Christiaan, 131, 143
galaxy clusters, 16–18, 189–191 Hyades, 71, 110, 113
giant/supergiant stars, 28, 29, 30, 45, 46, 50, hydrogen clouds (H I region), 24, 26,
56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 67, 68, 70, 71, 72, 75, 76, 140–141
78, 79, 81, 82, 85, 88, 89, 93, 94, 103, 104,
109, 113, 115, 118, 121, 123, 130, 135, 140,
151, 152, 154, 175, 178, 184
Gliese, Wilhelm, 35 Index Catalogues (IC), 131–132
globular star clusters, 21, 23, 25, 29, 30, interstellar dust, 14, 16, 21, 24, 25, 27, 55, 127,
31, 32, 34, 36, 38, 43–44, 70, 71–72, 74, 76, 134–136, 138, 160, 161, 167, 171, 178, 179
216 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

interstellar gas, 14, 16, 25, 27, 90, 109, 127–129, mass of, 26–28
131, 136, 138, 141, 144, 148, 149, 150, 152, rotation of, 26
155, 161, 167, 169, 179, 185, 188, 191, 192 structure of, 22–25
interstellar medium, explanation of, 127 molecular clouds, 15, 16, 24, 89, 90, 91, 129, 133,
irregular galaxies, explanation of, 182 134, 135, 136, 137–140, 142, 143, 144, 155, 159
Morgan, William W., 58
J moving star clusters, 113

Joy, Alfred, 118

K nebulae
chemical composition and physical
Kamp, Peter van de, 40 processes of, 133–148
Kapteyn’s star, 40 classes of, 14–16, 129–131
Keenan, Philip C., 58 definition of, 127
Kennicutt, Robert, 183 early observations of, 131–132
Kepler, Johannes, 27 20th-century discoveries about, 132–133
Keplerian orbits, 27 neutron stars/pulsars, 65, 74, 77, 79, 99, 100,
Kepler’s nova, 154, 156, 158 104–108, 156, 157, 158, 159, 193, 195
Kumar, Shiv, 95 New General Catalogue (NGC), 131, 132
North American Nebula, 161
L novae/supernovae, 14, 16, 25, 65, 71, 73, 76–78,
Lagoon Nebula, 161 79, 94, 97, 99–102, 104, 106, 107, 108, 115,
Lin, Chia-Chiao, 24 129, 130, 131, 133, 137, 143, 144, 154–156,
Lindblad, Bertil, 26 157, 158, 159–160, 169, 171, 173, 176, 184,
Local Group, 16, 29, 44, 120, 121, 146, 184, 185, 185, 195
190, 198, 199
M OB and T associations, 90, 112, 117–119, 120,
121, 199
Maffei, Paolo, 199 Omega Centauri, 114, 117, 120
Maffei I and II, 199 Oort, Jan H., 26
Magellanic Clouds, 18, 71, 100, 117, 120, 121, open star clusters, 32, 34, 35, 38, 71, 72,
146, 147, 154, 182, 184, 187, 190, 195, 198 110–114, 118, 119, 120, 121, 124, 170, 171
magnetars, 108 Orion Nebula, 49, 114, 131, 132, 142, 143, 145,
magnitude, stellar, explanation of, 53–54 147, 148, 161–162
Marius, Simon, 195
M81 group of galaxies, 198–199
Messier, Charles, 131 P
Milky Way Galaxy Peiresc, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de, 131, 162
magnetic field of, 25–26, 137 perfect gas law, 83, 84
Index | 217

planetary nebulae, 16, 36, 71, 94, 129, 130–131, S

147, 148–154, 184
Pleiades, 70, 71, 96, 110, 112, 113, 121, 124, 141 Sagittarius A*, 22, 109
Polaris, 124 Saha, Meghnad N., 57
Population I stars, 28–29, 30, 31, 43, 70, 71, 72, Salpeter, Edwin E., 34
74, 75, 100, 112, 151 Sandage, Allan, 30, 35, 177, 179, 180, 199
Population II stars, 23, 25, 29, 30, 31, 32, 38, Schmidt, Bernhard, 132
43, 70, 72, 74, 75, 115, 151, 184 Schwarzschild, Karl, 108
Praesepe, 71, 72, 110 Schwarzschild radius, 108
Procyon, 46, 50 Seyfert, Carl K., 182
proton-proton cycle, 85–86, 87, 92 Seyfert galaxies, 182, 183, 194, 195
protostars, 49, 91, 92, 139 Shapley, Harlow, 21–22, 114
Proxima Centauri, 13, 49, 122 shell-source models, 88
pulsars/neutron stars, 65, 74, 77, 79, 99, 100, Shelton, Ian K., 100
104–108, 156, 157, 158, 159, 193, 195 Shu, Frank H., 24
pulsating variables, 73, 74–76 Sirius, 46, 50, 53, 57, 68, 81, 89, 104, 122,
solar motion, 40–44
Q solar wind, 46, 48, 81
quasars, 109, 183, 193–195 speckle interferometry, 67
spectroscopic binary stars, 60, 61, 62, 63,
67, 124
spiral galaxies, explanation of, 178–181
Rayet, Georges-Antoine-Pons, 98 SS Cygni, 73, 77
Rayleigh, Lord, 81 star clusters
Rayleigh scattering, 81 dynamics of, 119–120
R Coronae Borealis, 74, 78 in external galaxies, 120–122
red dwarfs, 56, 62, 68, 87, 122 globular clusters, 21, 23, 25, 29, 30, 31, 32,
reflection nebulae, 16, 129, 141 34, 36, 38, 43–44, 70, 71–72, 74, 76, 79, 110,
relativity, theory of, 107, 108 112, 113, 114–117, 119, 120, 121, 122, 151, 165,
Reynolds, Ronald, 158 166, 170, 171, 173, 174, 176, 185, 195
Rigel, 46, 54, 89 OB and T associations, 90, 112, 117–119, 120,
Ring Nebula, 162 121, 199
R Monocerotis, 162 open clusters, 32, 34, 35, 38, 71, 72, 110–114,
rotating radio transients (RRATs), 108 118, 119, 120, 121, 124, 170, 171
RR Lyrae stars, 25, 29, 36, 42, 43, 44, 70, 73, stars
74, 76, 112, 114, 115, 116, 117, 121, 168, 170, atmosphere of, 80–82
171, 184 brightness and colour of, 53–54, 92–93, 115
Rubin, Vera, 197 categories of, 50
Russell, Henry Norris, 68 distances to, 49–52
RV Tauri, 75, 76, 115 end states of, 102–109
218 | The Milky Way and Beyond: Stars, Nebulae, and Other Galaxies

formation and evolution of, 14, 89–102, U

139–140, 144, 152–153, 155
Ursa Major, 113, 123, 179
internal structure of, 82–88, 92–93
Ursa Minor, 37, 124, 186
masses of, 59–60
motion of, 38–40, 52–53
positions of, 52–53
principal population types, 28–31 van Maanen rotation, 171–172
size and activity of, 45–49 van Rhijn, Pieter J., 31
temperatures of, 59, 92, 93, 95, 98, 99 van Rhijn function, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35
stellar associations, explanation of, 45, variable stars, explanation of, 73–80
110, 118 Vaucouleurs, Gerard de, 180, 182, 188
stellar luminosity function, 31–35 Vega, 46, 67, 123, 126
stellar winds, 46–49, 137, 143, 151, 152 Vela Pulsar, 105, 107
subgiant stars, 58, 68, 69 Virgo A, 192, 199–200
Sun, atmosphere and mechanism of energy Virgo cluster, 122, 184, 185, 192, 196, 199, 200
transport, 80–81, 85, 87–88 visual binary stars, 60–61, 67, 72
supergiant nebulae, 145–146
symbiotic stars, 154 W
Wallerstein, George, 30
white dwarfs, 14, 34, 35, 36, 39, 46, 50, 62, 67,
T 69, 70, 71, 72, 76, 77, 78, 84, 94, 101,
Tammann, Gustav, 199 103–104, 105, 126, 153, 154, 167
Tarter, Jill, 95 Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, 44
Taylor, Joseph, 106–107 Wolf, Charles-Joseph-Étienne, 98
Trifid Nebula, 131, 162 Wolf-Rayet stars, 97–98, 152
Trumpler, Robert J., 114
Tully-Fisher relation, 185 Z
turbulence (in nebulae), 16, 136–137, 138 Zanstra, H., 152
Tycho’s nova, 154, 156, 158 Zwicky, Fritz, 197